Monday, 17 September 2012

Education reform and why I'm really glad school is a long way behind me

Today Michael Gove, the Minister for Education announced he was scrapping the GCSE qualifications and introducing an English Baccalaureate, starting in the next few years. I did GCSEs when I was 16, and if I had to sit anything more complex I wouldn't have ended up going to university. A few years ago there was a mooted Baccalaureate qualification to replace A Levels (which I sat at 18). In order to pass the Baccalaureate, which is used on the Continent, you need to be a good all rounder. You have to take exams in English, Maths, Science, History, Geography and Languages. Now, I'm rubbish at Maths, numbers do not stick in my brain. I had fairly crummy Maths teachers growing up, if you don't have an aptitude for it, you ended up with teachers who weren't allowed (or able) to teach Maths to the kids who understood it. However I was good at English and other Arts and Humanities subjects (languages, History, Drama, Religious Studies, I was even good at Geography) and I could get by in Science. I can't draw for toffee and why run around in the freezing cold playground in shorts when there's a perfectly nice, warm library indoors (P.E teachers are sadists).
If I hadn't been able to drop the subjects I was no good at (I did however get a C in Maths at GCSE, you need a D to pass - take that crappy Maths teacher who told me it wasn't worth sitting the exam as I was going to fail - the insane Maths tutor totally paid off!!) and do subjects I understood and could cope with, then I wouldn't have got any qualifications and ended up with an MA.
The other thing Gove wants to scrap is coursework, bane of all teenagers' existence. I remember being asked by my mum "What coursework do you have?" "Have you done your coursework?" over and over. Teachers were the same, nagging about it. But it meant that for those who struggled with exams (I have a big brain, but even it cannot hold that much information) there was a chance to pull your grades up by doing great research for your coursework and presenting that well. (Let's not talk about my A Level History coursework, ever.)
Basically Gove wants to make it nearly impossible for kids to do well, if you're not an all rounder, if you don't have the aptitude for something, that's going to be the thing that pulls you down, that makes you fail and leaves you unable to excel and go on to further and higher education.
That's just wrong and I am so lucky that my GCSEs were 10 years ago. Which sounds insane as I don't feel nearly that old and I can remember going in for my exams and rushing off with my friends after, either crushed because it was terribly hard and frustrating or elated as it was a doddle (like the German oral exam, my teacher had the answers upside down on her desk).
I want the children coming up behind us to look back and have good memories of their time at school, or mixed ones like mine, not ones where they look back and wish government ministers in their ivory towers hadn't tampered with their exams so they ended up falling behind.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

To my 16 year old self

As I turn 26 in a week, I thought it only fitting to write to you, 16 year old me back in 2003. You're studying for your GCSEs and already having to make decisions that will affect your future, but it's ok.
You'll do fine in your exams in the summer, but don't be complacent. The maths tutor Mothership hires to help you will be a bit eccentric, but more encouraging than Ms Auerbach, ignore her.
Your A Levels are important but they will not matter in a few years, drop History, do Drama instead. I should have done. Although Mr Jones will leave halfway through. You'll love Mr Livingstone's lessons, and will one day get a hug from him at a sad occasion. Daniella will still be your best buddy, your evil twin. We talk everyday.
Things will get harder, turning 18 will be painful, you will be in hell. Ask for help. Ask Mum, ask a friend, ask a teacher. Do not suffer. You are not alone. I love you.
There will be dark days, truly, utterly wretched ones. You will go to some horrible places in your head, reach rock bottom and fall apart. But you will get better. It won't be easy but books, music, your friends and Madre will help. You don't feel like that forever. Promise. Hating yourself is easy, it's taken me this long to start loving myself, you will have help.
You will go to university, it won't be the one you think. You will not love everything about it, but you will learn a lot and be completely inspired. Your mind will expand and you will read hundreds of books, some of them will become your favourites, others will not.
Your friends will change, but you won't lose everyone, but gain some truly wonderful people in your life, they will be the best you will ever know. Those you lose will not be worth worrying over.
You will have a lot of adventures, always say 'yes', a life of regrets is not worth it. I wish I had said yes more, but I have let go of those regrets.
You will not get everything in life you want right now. Things will not slot into place the way you imagine. It'll be a slog, but so worth it. You will meet the most amazing people, see wonderful things, go to some great places and learn so, so much.
One day, when you least expect it, and are thinking you're ok being alone, you will meet a truly wonderful man. He will love you completely and utterly, burgeoning insanity and all. You will begin to plan a life together and you will be happy.
Be nice to your sister, but teasing is ok. She needs you on her team. Take care of everyone, you're good at that, but don't neglect yourself. There will be ups and downs, but all the tough times lead somewhere good. Don't get rid of your books, it's annoying trying to track down replacements.
Embrace your weirdness, it's part of you.
I love you, weird, messed up 16 year old me. Take care of yourself. We need you. xx