When my daughter took her O-levels in 1987, she did well enough in all but French for teachers to say she was Oxbridge material. She re-took French O-level in the autumn and again failed. That was the last O-level, so the following summer she took French at GCSE - and got an A.
At the time, I doubted the usefulness of the GCSE. I remember her saying, "Dad, it's so easy! You don't have to worry about grammar or declensions or gender - all you have to do is be able to read street signs and find your way about and learn a simple vocabulary."
I have since realised this is a much more sensible approach. While I struggle to think up a grammatically correct sentence in French, my less academically educated - and so less inhibited - compatriots get on like a house on fire with native French speakers, using fractured syntax and "Franglais" that is cheerfully accepted by all.
By the time I get my beautiful schoolboy French sentence out, the conversation has moved on.
John Harrison, Co-author of 'Wot, No School?', Rye, East Sussex.