At this time of year when results are coming through thick and fast, first for SATs and Highers and now for A Levels and next GCSEs, I always get to wondering what success looks like. Of course, the news will be peppered with those wonderful success stories of kids breaking records by passing exams in ever increasing quantities or at ever decreasing ages and our local press will be telling us exactly which kids managed to attain 10A*s in their GCSEs and who’s off to Oxbridge – but is that the only measure of success?
Is academic ATTAINMENT crucial?
Is academic attainment crucial when thinking about success? Certainly in the target driven environment we’re working in, it’s hard not to focus on the exact nature of our pupils’ results. Every pupil who gains a C and above is a ‘phew.. well done’ whilst an A or A* is a big pat on the back. But what really constitutes success for these learners? Should it all be down to a grade on a piece of paper? Should they be partitioned so harshly by grade after all those years of study? Rightly or wrongly, these grades will be a huge focus and turning point in many pupils’ lives. It will be the information they share with prospective employers or universities and it will be this information that will determine whether or not they’re ‘good enough’ to follow their chosen path.
Or should we be thinking about academic ACHIEVEMENT?
Should we be focused entirely on attainment – the grade achieved at the end of the course – or should we be thinking more in terms of the individual achievements made by the pupils we teach? Our government and maybe even our senior leadership teams may encourage us to focus on the statistics and the number of passes, but as a teacher, surely the individual stories run a lot deeper than that. Every teacher knows plenty of kids who put in very little effort but achieve very well, and conversely those children who sweat blood and tears in order to scrape a pass. Perhaps success should be less about patting ourselves on the back for those easily won As and more about celebrating with the slogger who just about managed to make the C grade?
Would you be more proud of the kid who sweated for a C or the one who walked an A?
Of course, on results day many of the children we teach make us proud, and maybe the kid who walked an A is just as deserving of our pride as the kid who sweated for a C. I suppose it’s all about individual differences and feeling that every pupil has reached their personal potential. I suppose we should also ask ourselves whether or not the pupil in question is happy with their results. If they feel that they’ve done their best, perhaps we should be celebrating with them, even if in our heart of hearts we feel they could do better.
I’ve always felt that I ‘failed’ biology A level due to the attitude of one teacher
I guess I have a pretty big chip on my shoulder about this type of thing as A level results day was a pretty horrific day for me personally. I had the promise of a place at Oxford if only I could achieve the three As they required. I knew that it was an impossible target for me following months of illness and a complete inability to understand all the diagrams necessitated by biology A level (about a year later I was diagnosed with dyslexia). I arrived at school dreading my results. Knowing before I arrived that I had failed and that ultimately I’d let everybody down. And sure enough. I’d ‘only’ got a B in biology. Before I even opened the envelope, my biology teacher had looked me up and down with disgust and muttered ‘You’ve really let me down. I thought you were a clever girl’. To this day I can see the look on her face and I still feel deeply disappointed in myself. My stomach is actually tying itself in knots just as I write this. But looking back, I think she was wrong. Just weeks before the final exam, I had failed my mock exam – even though I had cheated (shhh!) so actually I’d made remarkable progress (thanks to a different, and deeply inspiring, teacher). I think my B was a success that should have been celebrated and not the failure my teacher considered it. I’m sure I didn’t do her statistics any good but on a personal level I’d done well.
What do YOU think success looks like?
So what do you think success looks like? I’d love to hear your stories of pupils who’ve made you proud – no matter what grade they achieved.