“Exams are so bloody easy these days,” said one grumpy old caller on the radio yesterday. “It’s no wonder we keep hearing about record numbers of people going to university these days.” And he wasn’t the only one. None of the rants were evidence-based, of course, or even anecdote-based. They were just assumptions that the current generation of students couldn’t possibly be brighter and better-educated than us. “And those Mickey Mouse subjects! Well!”
The statistics are crystal clear. Our children are largely doing far better than we did. I certainly see it with my own sons who have studied for qualifications in subjects that are way beyond my level of intellect and understanding. Maths, Further Maths and Chemistry are the subjects that have taken my youngest son to one of the top universities in the land. I could not know less about them.
I have seen my sons revising subjects like these and, as my eyes have glazed over a series of impenetrable calculations and formulae, I have nodded as if I had even the vaguest level of understanding. My boys saw through the facade, smiling in friendly disbelief as I invited them to ask me for any assistance with their work if they needed it, as if to say, “Yes, yes dad. Don’t call me, I’ll call you.” The call never came.
There are, of course, reasons why today’s children have done so well. They have plainly inherited the genes of certain family members, mercifully skipping mine, and some things just came easy, but it’s more than that. I credit my partner, a school governor for over a decade, for her inspiration and I’d like to think I had some input, which I hope was more than “Would you like another pint of Thatcher’s Gold?” Teaching comes into it, too, above everything, and St Michaels Primary School in Stoke Gifford, followed by many happy years at Abbeywood Community School (formerly Filton High School), were hugely influential. The inspirational leadership shown by the head teachers, Mark Freeman and Dave Baker respectively, was matched by the huge ability of the teaching staff. I could not recommend these schools enough. The evidence is here and now with my children.
I cannot sit here and tell you that exams these days are far easier than they used to be. I haven’t sat an exam since the 1970s but I found them nigh impossible in those days. Judging from past papers my boys have shown me, they did not seem terribly easy to me. In fact, I offer a challenge to those radio callers dissing our children for their achievements: why don’t they sit the exams too and see how they get on, but only after they have spent many years working their respective bottoms off in course work.
Teachers are among the most important people you will come across in your life. Even mine. All right, I came out of Brislington School with embarrassingly poor qualifications, but I did know the teachers were far better than my results showed. And I can credit one teacher for giving me my lifelong love of words: Mrs Defonseca, a Portuguese English teacher take a bow.
Having met so many teachers at parents’ evenings since my boys started off their scholastic careers, I remain awestruck at their achievements too. It is no exaggeration to say that teachers prepare their students for their entire lives ahead in terms of careers, of course, but also how they live their lives. And when I see schools being treated as a Frankenstein experiment by terrible politicians like Michael Gove (remember him?), I feel the need to tell politicians to get back to what they are good at, if they are actually good at anything at all.
The youth of today, eh? They’re all lazy, heavy-drinking, drug-taking thugs, beating up old ladies and hanging round on street corners, aren’t they? Put aside the fact that they are setting standards in achievement that my generation could only dream about and it’s a very different story and it’s about time someone told it.
You should always want your children to achieve more than you did. Thanks to the efforts of parents, teachers and the kids themselves, this is what is actually happening today. It’s time to celebrate the efforts of our children, not diminish them.
The kids are all right.