What keeps me awake at night - Pilloried in their podium moment

10th August 2012 at 01:00

This summer we deserve gold for showing the world how to party. First the Jubilee, when thousands defied monsoon conditions to cheer two tiny figures bobbing about in a boat. Then the Olympics and our enthusiastic celebration of winners and losers. We cheered people we had never heard of, from countries whose names we had to Google, playing sports we never knew existed.

How sad, then, that the next major event on the calendar for sixth-formers, the arrival of A-level results next week, will not excite even a fraction of such warm enthusiasm.

Publication of the results is always predictable. The day before, a low rumble is heard as the media and the establishment prepare to announce that results have again improved. This rumble is not the noise of suppressed excitement before some moment of great rejoicing. No, this is a menacing rumble, a warning to pupils and teachers alike. "Don't start the party yet," it says, "because when we've finished with you, you won't feel like celebrating."

With the results come photos. These are the same each year: weeping grammar-school girls, public-school boys slapping each other manfully on the back, identical twins from comprehensive schools in deprived areas, teenagers who only learned to speak English six months ago and occasionally a chubby-faced six-year-old. They will all have achieved a vast number of A grades.

A cause to celebrate? A time to dust off the bunting again? You might think so, until over the page you read that these results have been achieved only because nowadays A levels are far too easy. Imagine saying to Olympic medallists, "Don't get too excited, you may have pushed yourself as hard as you could but your race gets easier every year."

Why are those who have worked hard for success made to feel that improvement is reprehensible, that if the job were being done properly results would be getting worse rather than better?

And if it is sad that the success of top-grade pupils is not celebrated unreservedly, consider those not in that group. The media would have us believe that any grade below a B is valueless (and even a B is seen as taking bronze when you should have got gold). Yet plenty of hard-working pupils have beaten their personal best by achieving a C, D or even - dare I say it - an E. What celebrations for them?

If only the party atmosphere created this summer could extend to the world of education this August. If only, just for once, our pupils could celebrate their hard-won success in style, without being belittled, criticised or undermined - at least until their parties are over.

The writer is an English teacher from Essex. To tell us what keeps you awake at night, email david.marley@tes.co.uk.

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