During the week spanning A-level and GCSE results day, Tes and I launched a social media campaign using the hashtag #MoreThanAGrade. Thanks to the involvement of a celebrity name or two, we briefly trended (hurrah!).
The idea was to recognise and celebrate all the aspects of education that cannot be seen in an exam result – the times when teachers have motivated, inspired, entertained and gone above and beyond for their students.
As I scrolled through the thousands of contributions to the hashtag, two things struck me. The first was how long our memories of school stay with us – childhood and adolescence are a crucial, formative time in our brain development. People in their 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s and beyond could recall with absolute clarity minute examples of wisdom and kindness that their teachers had showed them (the teachers had probably, by now, forgotten themselves). The second was how closely correlated people’s "favourite subject" at school was with their "favourite teacher". I don't think it's a coincidence that students tend to show the most enthusiasm for subjects taught by someone they have a connection with and, in the case of the stories being shared, this often went on to inform huge decisions about further education and employment.
We know how important teachers are to our society, but sometimes we need to be reminded. In that spirit, here are some of my favourite tweets from the campaign:
Teachers do way more than help you pass exams #MoreThanAGrade. My physics teacher Mr Betts taught me if we keep asking questions, we get to a point where we just don’t know! We don’t have all the answers yet, human knowledge is a work in progress @tes— Rachel Riley 💙 (@RachelRileyRR) August 21, 2018
Easy. Mrs McLaughlin inspired, used her humour and fostered a love of learning that has continuously grown ever since. #morethanagrade @tes @_NatashaDevon I now hope I’m doing the same! 🤞🏻 https://t.co/6v6gOzSfNY— Kelly McDonagh 🌈 (@MissKMcD) August 23, 2018
Mr Lyons: used to give me a 5 minute 'Soapbox' to rant/discuss whatever I considered a hot topic of that day. Really instilled a passion for learning through dialogue and debate, which I hope to pass on to my wonderful students! #MoreThanAGrade— MissMcHistory (@MissMcG1) August 23, 2018
My secondary school Design & Technology teacher, Mr Pratt, taught me the value of never saying "that'll do", but to ask myself "is this the best I can do?". This sentiment has stayed with me throughout my life. #MoreThanAGrade @tes— Tim Rose (@TimRose_edu) August 22, 2018
#MoreThanAGrade My history teacher was the first person I went to age 14 when I started struggling with my mental health. She supported me through GCSE & A Level history & listened when others didn’t. I would never have got to uni without her help in those last years of 6th form.— Alice Hewson (@4licerose) August 21, 2018
Struggled with confidence during Y9. Somehow decided to choose GCSE drama. On the first day, I went to my year manager to change it to another subject. She made me stick with it and told me it would do me wonders. It eventually became my favourite subject!#MoreThanAGrade— Mr ST (@stammer_teacher) August 20, 2018
Michael Gleeson is an inspirational Music Teacher. He taught me that the arts were accessible to everybody and that enjoying them for their sake and not because of the grades we would get, was something many of us will treasure for life #MoreThanAGrade— BECKY DAWSON #BLACKLIVESMATTER (@becsdawson) August 19, 2018
My Russian teacher @wolvesgirlshigh was a medical student when she found herself on the wrong side of the lines as the German army closed around Leningrad. She fled through Europe hiding in attics & eventually arrived in the UK as a refugee. She inspired us all #morethanagrade https://t.co/lo4O7bYVXn— Ipswich Sch Russian (@IpswichRussian) August 17, 2018
Of course, knowing teachers make such a valuable contribution to society doesn’t absolve us of any responsibility to examine the negative aspects of the job. You can’t lacquer over record teacher stress levels with sentimentality, as fleetingly comforting as it is.
The impact of new GCSEs on mental health
Last week’s news also (rightly) focused on the new GCSEs and their impact on pupils and teachers alike. If like me, you are concerned about increasing emphasis on exams (as opposed to balancing with coursework) and the more general narrowing of the curriculum, you might be interested to hear about a campaign called "Rescue Our Schools". It has called for an urgent inquiry into the mental health impact of the new GCSEs and Sats. You can sign its petition to Damian Hinds here.
#MoreThanAGrade is more than a hashtag – it’s a philosophy that acknowledges that school isn’t merely a recruitment process, but part of the fundamental building blocks of most people’s psyche. It is this view of schools as more than exam factories that we must preserve and protect.
Natasha Devon MBE is the former government mental health champion. She is a writer and campaigner and visits an average of three schools per week all over the UK. She tweets @_natashadevon