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Sunday, 21 December 2014

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Let’s all eradicate failure (and August)

I don’t like August. I’ve never liked August – it’s a sad and disappointing month. For a start, everybody with children abandons real life and work to hit the holiday trail – leaving the few long-suffering childless to man the barricades until they return with their tans, improved golf handicaps and jolly beach stories.

To add insult to injury, August weather is invariably a let-down. Back-endish. autumn creeps in while we – the childless – are still looking forward to summer breaks, making us prone to bouts of self-loathing when we fight urges to turn on home-heating before the leaves have properly turned and the boiler has been serviced.

At the end of the month is the last bank holiday before Christmas – which is just the most awful thought. And then those exams.

A-levels last week, GCSEs this week. Every teenager this side of that big boozy supermarket at Calais has been on tenterhooks for weeks and what’s left of August will be spent either in frenzied preparation for university or tearful regret over perceived failure.

I choose the word “perceived” deliberately, because no life could be defined as having failed on the strength of a paper test on love and understanding of Pride and Prejudice or imaginary mathematical problems unlikely ever to be encountered again.

But paper tests tend to promote that perception, which is unforgivable – whether at 16, 18, 21 or 65. And the devil at the root of that torment is in the word “failure”.

Our education system has been fighting failure for so long now it has grown perilously close to losing sight of success. The aim seems to have been set on turning out clones with similar exam results, the better to achieve almost identical university degrees, leaving employers with no means of identifying the special qualities they are looking for when recruiting for work.

Am I starting to sound like Michael Gove? Sorry, I don’t mean to. Must be that August feeling.

Fiddling with courses, messing with marking, inflating grades, Ofsted monitoring – all have conspired to turn out a one-size-fits-all young adult with few, if any distinguishing features. Standard three As, standard 2:1 degree, no failures. How does Mr or Miss Stand-out, er – stand out?

There has to be a better way to prepare young people for life. And maybe a good start would not to be to work towards eradication of failure but to start to rethink it.

What is it anyway? How can one mark or even 10 marks (in the opinion of a teacher) draw the line between a life destined for success or failure? The truth is, they can’t.

The fully rounded individual is one with the confidence and self-belief to build on strengths, not dwell on weaknesses. And while hearty congratulations go to all those who have achieved what they wanted from their paper tests, it is of those who treasure dreams beyond their exams I’m bound to think... in August.

More than horses for courses, education should be about freeing young inquisitive spirits, giving them permission to fly with confidence, ambition and imagination; nurturing character, curiosity and a clear understanding that failure does not translate into an inability to conform. Success is found when you rise above conformity.

So, now I do sound like Michael Gove, who further fiddled with A-levels to expose the distinguishing features of exceptional young people, knowing that every youngster has the potential to be exceptional in his or her own way. Whisper it – because I know no teacher who would agree with me – but I’m now rather sorry David Cameron chose so rudely to demote him, before his job was done.

I remember my A-level results day. Yes, I got what I wanted – to train as a journalist. My headteacher wanted something different for me – to train as a teacher. She wanted all her girls to be teachers.

“You disappoint me,” she said. “My advice to you is still to reconsider your choice. You should teach.”

If I’d known then what I know now, I’d have told her: “Don’t fret, dear. It’s August. And August can be a disappointing month – for some.”

Have your say

Not only dowe have educational chaos and failure in this country I'm afraid we also suffering a social failure on a huge scale.we abandon our elderly we ignore our youth and don't even know what family values and ties are.

Posted by Anon on 25 August 2014 at 10:38

The thing with exams is a lot of them are pretty much just memory tests.

Knowledge does not strictly beget intelligence.

I mean I suppose on one hand, if you can pull off As in your desired subjects then it is an indicator of your drive and commitment? That's all I got.

Posted by Brendan on 21 August 2014 at 09:28

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