Grades maketh not the person

The distress caused about exam grades is highly understandable. But it misses the point completely. They’re not actually that important. Ditch the angst. Feel the freedom.

The cornerstone of all education is the skill of analysis.

So let’s get one thing clear right up-front.

The distress and anxiety currently awash among students and their parents is obvious and very understandable. Sympathy and empathy abound for those receiving their grades and worrying about what they mean for the future. Seriously, my heart goes out to students, parents and teachers who battle the ridiculous legacy system we have.

I really do feel the pain. Many moons ago, when I received a grade lower than I aspired to, expected and frankly fully deserved, I packed my rucksack and set off to walk to Spain in a mood of “I’ll show them”.

But dinya fret, because I have GOOD NEWS for you.

Grades are not that important. IN THE LONG TERM. Which is the only term that really matters.

The grades don’t mean very much anyway, and the consequences for the future are minimal. Certainly not worth giving into such high levels of anxiety and stress.

So feel the freedom, and embark on the next stages of your life with confidence, enthusiasm and a hunger to achieve.

When your temper has subsided, hear me out.

Why is this the case ? Because the world has changed dramatically over the last 20-30 years, and those involved in the education system (teachers, students, parents) have really not kept up at all.

It’s not really their fault. But they do have a role in improving the situation. Including analysing what’s actually going wrong.

As an employer, I stopped giving two hoots about applicants’ GCSE and A level grades more than 20 years ago. I no longer care (and haven’t for a long time) whether someone has a degree, what grade they might have received or even what subject they studied. I care even less about their GCSE and A level grades.

They’re all a meaningless distraction, and little more than a useful ice-breaker in an interview. For sure, I want to know what they have done. But I don’t attach significant importance to it.

What matters is the individual’s innate intelligence which is demonstrated by their ability to hold a conversation, express an opinion, demonstrate an ability and willingness to learn and be enthusiastic, willing, participative and co-operative. And let’s start with the easiest one of all : just be a nice person !

The education system as a whole is now guilty of perpetrating a CON of epic proportions. Exam grades have become a cheap trick, a metric for tick-box compliance and assessment which doesn’t do justice to the students or the teachers, who all work incredibly hard (well, most of them).

Some words of advice

For university entrance administrators, stop being so unimaginative and either so lazy or so sheep-like in adherence to consigning people to boxes, just to make your lives easier. Let’s take even a quarter of the collective energy expended all across the country on grades & grading, and deploy it into an improved university entrance system which is not based on dumping thousands of students into classification boxes. It will be far more effective.

For employers, they need to learn to interview effectively. And hey, give someone a chance. You may be surprised by how well they perform. And if they don’t, you have at least a probationary period to weed out those who will not thrive and contribute in your work environment. For most young recruits, I’m more than happy to give them 1-2 years to blossom. [While politely releasing those who clearly aren’t really interested.]

For teachers, rejoice : you can now focus on true development of the young minds you are responsible for. Ofsted can ditch their tick-boxes and score-cards, a system of review and control probably invented by someone with excellent grades but no life learning and a pitiful understanding of the modern world.

For students, you can now enjoy your school years and focus on true learning, rather than succumbing like sheep into a collective CON. If grades are in fact important, they are only important for a couple of years. After that, your progress in life will be determined by your real abilities.

I have NEVER met a successful businessman, manager or worker who attributes their success in life to the exam grades they got. Quite the opposite. I have met thousands who have succeeded despite their grades, even despite having no grades.

You cannot miss the anxious sometimes tearful students claiming “they’ve ruined my life”. No they haven’t. And if you really think so, that’s the first sign of immaturity and an under-developed thought process. Those qualities will keep you out of a job far more than your grades.

So what’s the solution ?

Good question. It’s clearly complex. But it starts with good quality objective analysis.

Key principles for improving our education system include :

  • Create some independence for teachers. Stop messing about with the system every year, the curriculum, the grading boundaries, constant government interference.

  • Create a measure for assessing performance which is not purely about rote learning, tick-box assessments or labelling the individual. Focus on developing their minds, not on making them into sheep or robots.

  • Get politics out of education. Create stability and independence. Very probably, abolish the Department for Education and Ofsted. What? MORE change? Yes, but it will be the last one for 20 years.

  • Stop using grades as a crutch for key decisions by university administrators and employers.

  • Start understanding that grades are of temporary significance, as a stepping stone in an education process which extends beyond school and university.

  • Reform universities. Promote independent thought and get rid of “agendas”, notably among leftist, liberal woke tutors and professors.

  • Start understanding that universities are only important for certain disciplines. We don’t need 50% of the country’s young people going to university because it seems like some kind of social progress. We have generally seen a devaluation of the significance and usefulness of a university education. It hasn’t helped anyone (except the finance department of universities), and it certainly hasn’t helped the students themselves.

Yes, I understand these might be controversial opinions. So let me know what you think in the comments below. Or feel free to contact me at I’d love to know your opinion, especially if you work within the Education system.

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