'I can't stand people recalling exam failures'

'I failed every subject but now I’m a glorious success' is not a helpful message on exam results day, says Sam Tassiker

Sam Tassiker

Why saying 'I failed all my exams but now I'm a big success' is not a helpful message on results day

Results day is always an exciting time for me and my students, but there is one relatively new aspect which I find wholly frustrating. 

What can’t I stand? It’s the inevitable folk on social media holding cardboard signs saying "I failed every subject but now I’m a glorious success". Yes, they’re trying to offer comfort to the few extremely hard-working students who had a shocker on exam day but, actually, are they the students it resonates with and is it such a positive message to portray? I’m not so sure. 

The nature of results day means that some students will have passed and, inevitably, some will have failed. While it’s important not to add undue pressure if results are not what a student, parent or teacher hoped for, it’s also important not to peddle a suggestion that if you fail you shouldn’t care.

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Just like a marginal proportion of those who’d like to become famous footballers will be able to achieve that goal, if a student hasn’t achieved the result they needed or desired, the best course of action is usually to have another go at it. Be resilient, resit the exam and hopefully move forward after passing next time. Should we really be encouraging students to call it quits after a first attempt because such and such on Facebook is a millionaire after dropping out of school?

There are many things that I believe to be just as important as an exam result: looking after our planet, being empathetic and considerate, being loyal and inquisitive and creative. I definitely do not think academic results define a person, but the reality is that without certain qualifications, doors will remain closed for the majority. 

We know, as teachers, it can be difficult enough to get students to engage in subjects that they find challenging or that don’t interest them. On more than one occasion, a student has used an example from the internet, or the world of celebrity, to explain to me why English "doesn’t matter". I spend a decent proportion of my time trying to challenge that view. 

It would be great if this results day we could have genuinely positive messages doing the rounds and going viral, such as this: it’s not the end result, it’s the distance travelled. Look at how much progress you’ve made, I'd say to students, and be proud of how hard you have worked.

Sam Tassiker is a secondary teacher in Scotland

Tes Scotland is live blogging throughout SQA exam results day

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