As Chair of Trustees at a fabulous school in Dartford, I am personally overwhelmed by Dartford Science and Technology College Year 11 students’ GCSE results, with this year marking another year of sustained improvement. As Trustees and Governors we are pleased to report some outstanding achievements by our students in their qualifications this summer. Equally the post 16 results and the GCSE results demonstrate the incredible efforts of pupils, staff and families during some of the most turbulent times this country has ever witnessed, with respect to health, well-being and education. We are also delighted that 94% of students who applied to university will be taking up places in September.
The outstanding achievements by our students in their qualifications this summer is a combination of several factors, from home life to school life. The staff of the school, so admirably led by the Head through all those long days and long evenings, have ensured that pupils receive the greatest opportunities and support to succeed. These efforts are fully vindicated when you look at the high numbers of pupils moving onto University and further education.
There is however, a ‘thinly’ veiled belief that these and other students across the country are somehow to blame for some of the excellent results they have achieved. There is almost a sad suggestion that students have somehow been awarded higher results through assessment, rather than achieving through such a difficult period of study during a pandemic. These opinions place an additional burden on young human beings at the early stage of their lives - with the media often treating their achievements with disdain, claiming grades have been artificially inflated.
I’ve watched the pain of many pupils during the pandemic. The media and public need to cut pupils some slack, because the attack has at times been deafening. I am not here to dismiss the conversations that results have been inflated in some way, or the concerns that have been floated about independent schools versus state funded schools or even whether the assessment of grading was flawed. I am however here to defend the pupils who have to listen to these voices of doom and feel their achievements are undervalued.
In these extraordinary times, we should be discussing and debating how we help young people become more resilient in a changing world, and fill them with confidence and support, instead of lessening the importance of aspiration (with a capital A). Let us not allow young people to be undermined by those who have forgotten that life and society can be an incredible leveller, regardless of which school or University you study at or which apprenticeship you select. Life is tough enough as it is without telling a GCSE or post 16 pupil that their achievement means very little this year, or even a post 16 student hearing that they have somehow not deserved the chance in life to make what they can of this valuable opportunity.
I am first generation born in the UK, first generation to go to University in the UK during an evolving and increasingly diverse country in the 70s and 80s. I was bullied at school yet I made it to University without any additional funds from home, in a family environment where we could barely afford food on the table and a roof over our head, but with the belief that we could still achieve much. Resilience and confidence are key features to real progress in society, not exam results, they will never define the person or their final destination.
Destroying a young person’s aspiration to succeed post exams, only shows the callous approach some take to the hard work of many and insults the teachers, who have done everything they can to offer support and opportunity to the start of young person’s journey. There’s no more important time to support teachers and newly qualified teachers, who have also suffered during these last two years and continue to engage young people with relatable role models - STEM Ambassadors for example - to ensure we carry the torch to build resilience, confidence and sustain aspiration to impressionable pupils, as the flame to guide their future path.