It’s that time of year, again – A-level results. First the build-up – headline writers desperately trying to influence the narrative and create this year’s talking points; then the release of results with accompanying photos of delighted students; next the analysis and adjacent commentary complete with the references to “grade inflation”.
And, of course, the annual tweet from Mr Clarkson, reminding students that he got a couple of Es at A Level and now eats lobster in a private jet. Or something along those lines.
The early headlines this year were focused on scaring the living daylights out of students who were already nervous enough, with warnings of “dramatic” reductions in top grades and “plummeting” results.
‘Everyone knew what to expect and the results profiles are what we were advised they would be in the autumn.’
All of this was, of course, absolute nonsense. Schools and families were told in good time, back in the autumn, that A-level results boundaries would be somewhere between those of the last set of exams (2019) and those of last year’s grades, determined by centres (2021).
Basic mathematics should enable journalists to deduce that this means a reduction in grades, yes, but still a significant increase on 2019. And so, all centres and families knew what to expect and the results profiles are, it seems, pretty much precisely what we were advised they would be in the autumn.
Anyway, the purpose of this piece is not to offer commentary on the strategy of bringing grades back down to where they were in 2019, by 2023. Nor is it to comment on the way the media addresses A- Level results, annually, and what could be done to improve public understanding.
“Teachers have demonstrated incredible resolve and fortitude throughout the pandemic.”
Nor do I intend to spend much time outlining the incredible achievements of this year’s cohort who, themselves, have transitioned through GCSE to A-Level amidst a pandemic, lock-downs, chronic disruption to their learning and four different Education Secretaries.
They are, and should be, our focus, of course. They are an astonishing, resilient and inspirational generation who deserve nothing but praise for how they have handled the past two years. Plenty of stories will emerge and each individual set of results tells its own story. We congratulate them all.
Where I wish to focus my attention in this reflection on A-level results, is on another group of people who have demonstrated incredible resolve and fortitude throughout the pandemic and who have as much to celebrate, today, as the students.
They are, of course, the teachers – frontline workers throughout Covid yet rarely celebrated in the press for their efforts – this generation of students would not be celebrating their incredible achievements were it not for the dedication and determination of the people who taught them.
“This is a generation of classroom practitioners that has set the bar higher than any previous one.”
Whether it is finding creative ways to engage students online or working out how to ensure everyone makes progress when attendance is at an all-time low, this is a generation of classroom practitioners who have set the bar higher than any generation who have gone before.
Teacher absence itself, with self-isolation a key tool for combating the spread of the virus, has been a monumental challenge and yet teachers and leaders, doing what they do, have still found a way to ensure that learning continues. From my own perspective, I cannot quite believe we have achieved what we have achieved, given the challenges we have faced.
Effective learning is predicated on sound well-being and we must recognise the positive impact that school staff have had on young people as they have helped them to navigate their way through the past two years and through the first set of written exams since 2019. The sacrifice and effort has been immense and a generation of young people are, I am sure, incredibly grateful for the support they have received.
This year’s A-Level results are significant; tracking the results from 2019 – 2023, and the story that they tell, will be an interesting exercise in the future. But amidst all of that and the fact that this generation, who were locked-down weeks before their GCSEs and who have overcome phenomenal challenges to get where they are today, we must remember to celebrate the efforts of some of the most significant and unsung heroes of past two years.
“Not every student will remember to thank you but they will all realise in the future how fortunate they have been.”
Teachers, we salute you. What you have achieved for this generation defies belief. Your creativity, determination, resilience and compassion are limitless. Not every student will remember to thank you but at some point in the future they all will realise how fortunate they are to have been guided and supported by you.
Results days are, of course, an opportunity to celebrate the achievements of students. Schools and colleges take great delight in so doing and that is as it should be. However, whether we focus in on individual achievements or on the success of entire cohorts let us never forget that behind every grade is a teacher, to whom that grade means just as much as it does to the student. The media and society at large would do well to remember this and to recognise the incredible contribution of teachers to the lives of young people.