GCSE results bring a rash of examitis

5th September 2003 at 01:00
Every year on GCSE results day I dream of feigning illness and staying home. The trouble is I'm the head and, although I feel sick, I'm not really ill. I have examitis, a chronic virus which makes me increasingly dependent on what other people think or say about my school's performance to the exclusion of all other evidence.

How will our community, especially those parents choosing their school for next year, see our results? What will the governors, our staff, the local authority and, of course, the media think and say? No wonder I'm more interested in how to market my school's results in the most flattering light than I am in what they mean. Publicly I'm confident, relaxed. Inside it's a different matter.

As always, I start worrying long before the exam results are published, but far too late to do anything about improving them - Year 11 exam revision only appeared on our management team's agenda three times in May and June.

I did wobble a bit when the students went on study leave, but the success of our coursework catch-up strategy stopped me losing all sense of balance.

I pretend lack of interest when the results arrive. But when the print-out comes off the machine, I casually bury my hands in my pockets where you can't see them shaking. Forget average points scores, value-added indicators and all that guff, I'm interested in one statistic. It's the one that the public knows best. "So what's the five A*-C grade percentage?"

I've put off replying to queries from newspapers and the radio station until I know that score.

The relief is enormous. It's going to be all right. Within an hour we know we've gone up by about 10 points to nearly 62 per cent. By the end of that mid-August Wednesday I've scheduled the media, listened to the evening broadcasts, and decided our own headlines: our best results on top of four consecutive years of improvement, wonderful maths scores, and our boys outperforming the girls.

Why don't I feel elated? Is it because I've already begun to worry about next year's targets and because, whatever our school's performance, it will never be enough for me?

Next day, as the kids gather, the real headline is that this is their day more than it is ours. Yes, the results are important, but they only tell part of the story of the successes and challenges of my school. As I leave, I decide on some actions for next year which reflect my perceptions and the culture of the Wavell. I will celebrate the real success of our kids and be ready to help those who need it; congratulate the department teams and individuals who exceeded everyone's expectations; and thank everyone for their commitment and hard work, especially those whose achievement has to be measured against the adversity they may have suffered - those staff are likely to have worked harder than anyone.

And oh yes, I shall phone Clive, a local head, and congratulate him for his school's success, and be proud of ours because we should be.

Examitis is an unwanted interference to the real business of schooling.

This year I coped better than usual because I helped prepare some of our students and, deep down, I wanted to find out how they did as much as I did the whole school.

I loved being out there in the quad when they were opening their results because that was where the real difference was evident. How they did, and how they take the next step, is much more important than simply how their achievement is seen. I just have to keep on reminding myself of that.

Spokey Wheeler is head of the Wavell school, an 11-16 comprehensive in Farnborough, Hampshire

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