A very British entry …

I write this post whilst wearing many hats.  That’s how I shall justify it to myself, and to you, my long-suffering readers. 

One of these hats is of the straw boater variety.  It sits quirkily on my pigtails with a bizarre orange and brown ribbon.  It comes complete with a set of knee scabs, a conker and a really long skipping rope.  It is, indeed, the hat of schoolchild.  It goes through many changes and becomes battered and weary from all it sees and does.  It does have the decency to avert its eyes when romance is found …

[at this point it may amuse you to learn that i only gained five a-c grade gcse’s – one less than the standard usually required to enable a continued study onto a’ level.  my cv claims that i have nine gcse’s.  this is true, although three are at d grade and one is an f [art], it spells fart.  i later learnt through discussions that i am the sort of schoolchild that obviously gets ‘lost’ on the system, the quiet one who plodded along so everybody thought i’d be ok and fandangly.  i wasn’t challenged enough and i had no motivation]

The quirky straw boater is nudged aside on my head by a black velvet hat of no particular shape.  It is the hat of studentness.  This hat saw me through my A’ Levels at the age of eighteen [yeh, I only gained two, poor grades, but I had the nastiest English teacher who hated me, oh – and I hardly did any work], through my first year at university studying for a BEd in Primary Teaching, and then onto a BA [hons] degree course studying Religion and Sociology [because teaching just wasn’t for me].  Then came my proudest moment – who would have thought that I could gain a 2.1 BA [hons] degree after failing miserably with GCSEs and A’ Levels?  And, on top of that, have the bestest Religious Studies dissertation in the whole of the university?  My A’ Level English teacher would have lost her smug smile.  But I doubt she knew.  Or cared. 

The Mortar Board tries to snigger its way to the top of my head as this point.  It comes with a long black wizardy style cloak, and a scroll of parchment tied with a bright red ribbon.  It helps me through a year of training to be a secondary school teacher.  It knows that at this point the grades I gained at school don’t matter.  I qualify as a teacher and it is smug on my head.  It is the post-graduate-teacher hat.  It later becomes the teaching assistant hat.  Perhaps this is because it is disaffected by the education system?

Another hat that is accessible for this post is a pink hat covered in sparkles and sequins.  It is the sister hat.  At the age of sixteen the Big Brother told me that GCSEs were a lot easier than the old style O’ Levels he had had to take.  He used to teach English to kids in high schools, and to business men and women, in Czecho.  The Eldest Brother has a PhD and is lecturing at a university in Wales.  He says that eighteen year olds these days don’t know how to use the library.  The Baby Brother was disaffected by school for various reasons [and still went on to gain a First at uni, well done!].

The hat that tries to hide down my non-existent collar is made up of bits of scrappy material and is shaped like a jaunty beret.  It comes with whispers and notes.  This is the friendship hat.  I have friends, and one in particular, who left school at sixteen with a handful of GCSEs, and then worked their way up so that by the time I finsihed university they were already earning more money, and had more training in certain areas, than I could hope to achieve in my first few years as a teacher.  This one particular friend now works in London earning vast amounts of money and has many graduates beneath her. 

So, is that enough hats?  Having known little except education [apart from a few months unemployment, and a year or so working in the retail sector], having worked in three different secondary schools, and the fact that I currently work with school children who have been let down – by their parents, the police and certainly by the education system, am I experienced and qualified enough to say …

that the British education system totally sucks

We do not, however much they want you to believe it, have the best education policies/system in the world. 

You do not, however much they tell you that you do, need to go on to gain A’ Levels and a degree in order to get a top-notch job.  In fact, they only tell you this to keep you in education and away from jobs lest the unemployment figures go up.

The rest of your life, whatever else they tell you, does not depend wholly on your grades.

Exams are, whatever else they want you to believe, getting easier – or, more to the point they’re getting easier to attain because you’re not being challenged intellectually.  This is not your fault.  It is the fault of them

Do you even know what a low percentage you need in order to gain a A grade? 

I am not insulting anyone.  Certainly not the students who work hard.  But there needs to be some way of distinguishing the high ability from the average ability. 

And that A* grade at GCSE – what the fuck is that about? 

Congratulations if you have received your A’ Level results today.  May they be what you needed to get to the university of your choosing [because come on, you’re not getting your A’ Levels in order to work at eighteen are you?].  And if they weren’t?  Pffft, it’s not the end of the world.  Life may be all the better because of it …

When we have realised that all children learn at different levels, paces and in different ways, that the plodders are important and it’s the kids who aren’t high achievers who are actually the most important, then maybe we can overhaul the education system of this country and make it the best in the world, again. 

please God bless the A’ Levels xxx Elsabeth

For my foreign readers who may be scratching their heads, if they even managed to get this far …

GCSE is a General Certificate of Education.  You get a grade for each subject you take.  Most sixteen year olds take nine or ten.  Some take none.  They’re encouraged to take none if it will pull the school down in the league tables, because it’s the league tables that matter, not the kids.  You can leave school at sixteen and do various other, usually vocational, courses, or get a job. 

A’ Level is an Advanced Level examination, taken at eighteen, usually in two to four subjects.  Sometimes five.  At seventeen you can now take something called an AS Level.  There is no point in this, nobody cares about it.

A First and a 2.1 are the top two grades you can get at university.  About twenty – thirty percent of undergraduates achieve this.  The rest get 2.2, a Third, or a fail.

Thanks for listening .



  1. I was always one of the plodders at school. Not the worst but not the best. It didn’t do me any favours, but I wasn’t abandoned, either. I did well at college through working solely for myself.It’d be interesting if they’d implement that International Baccelaureate (sp?) I think. I’m mostly for keeping kids in school until they’re 18, as they do in the States and in Europe.

  2. It sucketh greatly.  You know, only 2 people in my degree class (History at Warwick) got 2.2s. Everyone else got a 2.1 or a First.  No 3rds.  No fails!
    We used to use old O-level papers to revise for Combined Science GCSE.  And had to leave half the papers out, because they were too complicated.  Coursework takes up so much time, I think it’s got a lot to answer for.  And, we were on our honour not to work on it out of lesson time.  Grrr.

  3. Having sworn I’d never go back to a school when I left for the last time on A Level day, I find it surprising that I’m back in one now, albeit on the other side.
    I agree with you, the educational system’s shite.  On top of that, I truely believe that the boundaries are shifted to show this ever-increasing level of ‘high’ grades.
    But what for?  At the end of the day no-one gives a toss about your A Levels, they only check your GCSEs to show that you have basic reading and writing skills (and we all know that GCSEs don’t even teach you that now).  My sister is like your friend – she didn’t go to university and earns more than my other half who’s a year older and has a good degree to her name, from a ‘top’ university.
    It’s all bollocks, and I feel so sorry for the students outside my room today crying and worrying that they won’t get the grades the ‘need’.  I so desperately want to tell them that they need nothing, and they have the powers to shape their own destiny from right now.

  4. As one of your foreign readers I was a bit confused but managed to piece it together thanks to your defnitions!  I’m sure this is a stupid question, but how similar are your (England’s) school system/levels to Scotland’s?

  5. (Shall I try this again)
    Say it loud and proud. OUR EDUCATION SYSTEM SUCKS !   I couldn’t agree more with what you’ve said & I wish there was a politician who understood, but we’re sadly lacking in those too.
    L xx

  6. lol  I did scratch my head with a big HUH??   I read it anyway!  mainly because you make me giggle a ton!
    Im lucky enough to be in a state that is in the top 5 best for PUBLIC education in the US!

  7. school does suck, they like pigion holeing students into boxes and as long as there in there pre detemined box they not give two hoots about how your actualy doing.

  8. It isn’t any better here, I promise you.  I did scratch my head slightly but I’m relatively familiar with the terms because I’m an insane anglophile.
    I worked my ass off at school (well, ok mostly I coasted by on my smarts but in some areas I did work hard) and look where it’s gotten me. Ha.

  9. I think…I think that no matter where you are, the educational system sucks to some degree. Nobody’s found the “perfect” plan yet, but they don’t give a shit either way, as long as they meet their quotas.

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