Throughout my teaching career, I've been asked many times by students what grades I got for my GCSEs. I always proudly tell them eight As and a B for maths. Now I would not consider these bad grades at all, yet I am often met with vaguely pitying looks; the sort of looks reserved for someone who tries particularly hard at sports day, but knocks all the hurdles down nonetheless. Some students are shaken to their very core at the realisation that they are being taught by someone who didn’t even get one A*.
I remember the days when A was the top mark. It is, after all, the first letter, and seeing as the alphabet has been doing pretty well for itself for nigh on a thousand years, the A seemed to have a darn good chance of staying at the top and looking down at all the other paltry letters below it. But then the powers that be, in their infinite wisdom, decided too many people were getting As. They decided that it was now too easy to get an A and thus the A* was born.
Numbers of the beast
Someone must be having a laugh at our expense. It has become all too similar to the classic spoof documentary This is Spinal Tap, in which Nigel Tufnel (pictured) proudly shows off his guitar amplifier where all the controls have a setting of 11. "After all," he explains, "what do you do when you’re at the top and you want to take it even further? You go to 11."
"Why not just make 10 louder?" asks documentary maker Marty DiBergi.
This too, we have asked policy makers: why not make it harder to get an A?
But no one was willing to answer that question. And so the A* muscled its way to the top and it was here to stay, we were told. Except it’s wasn't. It turns out they were not done shifting the boundaries. Now the poor A has been done away with altogether to make way for numbers 1-9. Because to get a 9 is a true test of academic prowess.
But surely when you "out-Spinal Tap" Spinal Tap then questions have to be asked...
Rob Messik is director of theatre and drama at King Alfred School in north-west London
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