There have been screams and whoops and tears on the street outside the school gate. Plus naturally – this being 2007 – plenty of those big hugs favoured by teenagers. I got a call at lunchtime from my godson who scored 11 A stars plus a plain A in Physics. His father whom I've known since we were both nine got an "unclassified" in his O-level Physics which in old money meant a fail.
I've got my worries about our exam system, as you will see, but I'm growing a little weary of the annual sneer-fest that greets kids who feel they've done well. Belittling their achievements is pretty unfair – all they've done is play the game into which they are forced. The game is a desperate one. After that now notorious promise back in 1997 that the focus would be on "education education education" New Labour dare not see a fall back in the annual quality of exam results. It has to be onwards and upwards year after year and the figures now have the macabre spectacle of the celebration of Stalinist Five Year production targets.
The ritual condemnation of exam grade devaluation combined with a general sense that Einstein would have struggled to achieve 5 A stars back in his teens is not really getting us anywhere. But the problem will not go away especially if large numbers of top schools wind up going off piste and dropping GCSEs and A levels altogether because they have little or no value for their pupils. At the other end of the scale there remain an appalling number of 16 year-old who are leaving school without basic literacy, numeracy and communication skills. So the system fails kids at both ends of the ability spectrum.
I don't think I ever worked so hard in my life as I did for school exams. They involved cramming great vast swathes of information into my leaky brain over a ghastly Summer term – everything from Macbeth soliloquies, through the intricacies of glacial erosion to Ohms Law. I'd forgotten most of it by the following September. But the process has left a lasting legacy.
I'm now in my mid 40s and I still have the odd nightmare about my exam results – never university finals but always O and A levels. They are of the classic anxiety type in which I've never done enough revision and, my god, they are still deeply troubling. I was convinced then there had to be a better way of assessing children's academic capabilities and, thirty years later, I am still of that opinion (not least because I only got a C in O-level Physics and deserved better). Goodness only knows what the lasting effects of testing kids at primary school is going to be.