Yesterday saw the annual discharge of A Level grades to around 300,000 young people across England, Wales and Northern Ireland (the Scottish Highers system gave its youth a nine-day head start). Two years of battling with Biology, grappling with German, and skirmishing with Statistics: distilled into letters that open or close doors to the future.
A system that boils academic achievements down into an unsubtle and unsympathetic string of letters is disconcerting for many young people, as well as many parents. We read press stories about the damaging psychological impact created by a weight of expectation to achieve required grades. We can be thankful for educational and training organisations, and employers, who look at young people through different lenses, and who nurture their potential along more diverse paths.
However the ‘A Level Results Day Experience’ undeniably gives young people a foretaste of what to expect when the scene shifts around them, from the 3Rs of Education to the 3Rs of the Workplace (Rate, Rank and Reward). Thirty years after receiving my own A Level grades, I still receive a rating that is meant to encapsulate my performance at work each year. The tendency to bundle complexity into a neatly labelled package, and to create identity via grades or ratings, is an inescapable feature of our workplaces.
Despite any misgivings about the system, the simplicity and clarity of A Level grades can challenge our apprehensions about the overwhelming complexity of modern life. We are reminded that some of the most profound and life-transforming biblical descriptions of our identity are disarmingly simple: ‘child of God’; ‘raised with Christ’; ‘set free from sin’. Some of Christ’s deepest truths, about himself and about us, are concise enough to be written down on an A Level results-sized slip of paper.
So why not try this summer holiday game: turn your (or your child’s/relative’s/friend’s) A Level grades into an acronym that reminds us of our identity, beyond the grade label. In this way, B,B,C becomes Beloved By Christ; D,C becomes Divinely Created; even F,F can become Forever Forgiven (yes, there’s hope…). If you like the game, the great thing about it is that, if you pass Level 1 this week, you can move up to Level 2 next week when the GCSE results come out.
Nick is an HR consultant, and a parent