20 yrs Ago… (by )

20 yrs ago, me and my friends Nikki and Helen went nervously to our school to collect our GCSE results. I at least was petrified, I believed that everything hinged on the results. I'd had noise bleeds and panic attacks trying to get through the damn things.

The added pressure for me was that I had a hell of a lot to prove - it wasn't just my future that was at stake - it was me myself - it was my self worth.

I am [dyslexic](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dyslexia, very dyslexic, I have ADHD and dyspraxia too - I was not statemented for the dyslexia at this point. There was no extra time or allowances for SPAG made, some of the papers I sat I'd only gotten to the centre of the exam paper before the exam time run out. I also had several stints on walking aids and crutches due to the hypermobility and general clumsiness of dyspraxia.

I'd only sat 8 GCSE's (counting double science as two GCES) in place of the ninth I had "Option Support". I'd been talked out of doing geography because of the amount of writing involved in it.

Also I tended to get lots of chest infections and had extremely bad periods where I would throw up meaning I often missed big chunks of school.

I was bullied unmercifully - I was one of the poorer families, I had mostly home made uniform, I wore NHS glasses and had frizzy hair. Every one thought I was thick - I saw what other people were like - I was pretty sure I wasn't thick (most of the time but sometimes I thought I was the stupidest person on the planet).

One girl would steal my bag and copy my homework, her spelling was great but my finding things out and reasoning was much better than hers. She would get full marks, depending on the teacher I could score 0 for my spelling nullifying the answer for them. Most of the teachers were great and incredibly supportive but not all of them. My bag would end up in the bin, sometimes it would be hidden, sometimes it was thrown on top of things and kindly teachers had to retrieve it. I had stones thrown at me and my hair set on fire, I wasn't the only one.

When I started the school my parents were informed I'd be lucky to be sitting GCSE's at all. I needed to prove the world wrong about me.

I worked on my coordination with my little brothers help, I worked on my reading - I was desperate to read - I could see there were films where you could see inside peoples heads inside books and they were quiet so you could "watch" these films anywhere.

My dad made me alphabet and spelling cards and my mum and nan sat with me for hours trying to get that click of recognition were letters and words were concerned.

The head teacher Ms Winstone was on my side and this was a tremendous help. But I had little to no drama, music, second language lessons as I had to go and do extra English. I had to go to The Red Room. I actually loved the Red Room and the ladies who helped me in there. There was a chicken game with spelling eggs that I think one of the ladies sons had made. I loved it!

I respond well to gamification.

But the Red Room was the "special room" for special people who couldn't be anything and needed to be put in their place in society.

In year 8 when I was 12 yrs old my friend lent me two point horror books The Boyfriend and The Girlfriend. I decided that what ever it took I was going to read those books! I was going learn to read.

It took me three months to get through the first book - point horrors are for young teens and are between 1 and 2 hundred pages of largish, well spaced type. It was so so damn hard, I had a red ruler that I used to follow the words - to make it clearer which line I was reading. It was a slog.

The second book I believe only took me 3 weeks, by the following year I had it down to 3 days! But... I was reading all the time - I still wasn't a fast reader I just devoted a lot of time to it, I read walking home, I read whilst waiting for my friends, I had books shoved in the pockets of my blazer. Within five books of starting this "proper reading" I was reading long epics such as The Eight and Weaveworld, I read classics such as The Call of the Wild, White Fang, and Other Stories. I began to collect books to read, from charity shops and library sales. I discovered that I don't really like most "classics".

This reading transformation is not as clear cut as this makes it seem. I would never have loved books if it had not been for the books my last year Junior School teacher Miss Savage had selected for me or the help the librarian at that school had given me - the use of high content low word count books was amazing and I loved [Bangers and Mash](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bangers_and_Mash_(TV_series) and Tim and The Hidden People. And the help to over come speech problems and so on via looking looking after ducklings all played a huge huge part.

And I knew from an early age that I wanted to be a archaeologist, opera singer and astronaut. I did not know the difference in Infant school between archaeology and palaeontology and the boundary is a tad blurry! I wanted to be an opera singer so I could design the sets, cloths, and write the stories as well as sing and act. These are still pretty much all my aspirations.

I don't let go of dreams easily, and getting to secondary school had been a near miss with suggestions that I needed to go to a "special needs" school. To be a geologist I needed to get to university and even I at infant school age 4-7 yrs old knew that you couldn't get there from those types of schools (this was the 80's).

So GCSE's were a pretty big deal and I was terrified on the day I went to get my results - I was determined to do four A'levels but I was starting from a bad base of doing less GCSE's that most people to begin with.

Due to the tremendous improvement in my reading skills I had been put up into first set for Science from third set - something that was a big gamble for the teachers and something everyone had to have meetings about. Some considered it wasn't fair and there was the issue that bottom sets are often not taught everything because they just don't have the time to get through everything at the pace needed for students who can't read through huge texts books by themselves etc...

This meant I was trying to catch up on 2-3 years worth of science foundation as well as learning the stuff for the actual exams. I really loved my science lessons and ended up in what was called the "super set one" who did more in depth stuff like cosmology and A'level and degree level questions just to stretch you a bit - the down side? You lost lunch times for the classes.

My science teachers believed in me - or at least let me think they believed in me. And this was a confidence boost but at the same time put an expectation for success on me that was probably all projection from my own expectations of self. I knew I couldn't fail because I'd let down all those parents, grandparents, teachers and friends who had helped me. My nan died during my GCSE years so it was important not to let her down - she had won a place at grammar school but had been denied it as she was just a girl and the eldest of a large brood who needed caring for. I had to succeed for her.

And yes my friends helped me - they helped me by letting me catch up with notes copied from the board when the maths teacher was bullying me in year 8. They helped me face down the bullies and snuck sweets into the cinema with me. These were the same friends who came with me so we could collect our results together - Nicky and Helen who were both fire bearers at my wedding.

No one in my family had made it to university, it was not something you did, I could not fail, I could not fall but I was sure I'd have to do it part time whilst working because how else did you do university?

I wasn't even sure if people like me could go to university but I never let the impossible slow me down. I would have to find away.

We marched into the front of the building through the official visitor entrance, giggling with nerves and being too loud (or at least I was) and we picked up our envelopes. I couldn't read the results, my vision had blurred with fear or blood pressure or nerves.

The results? 5 Bs, 3 Cs and a D - the D was in History where Id had to write essays and hadn't gotten very fair with the paper - however I was borderline for a C and the teachers suggested we get it remarked. This cost £30 I think and was a lot of money to us but we did it - it came back still a D.

This was higher than I'd expected, and higher than most of the teachers had expected due to that only getting to staples in the middle of the papers thing, oh and having a panic attack in one exam and having been in A&E with a stupid injury from trying to run to an exam when our friends mum forgot to pick us up.... and so on.

The only exception to this was Art - I was actually predicted A for art but I didn't realise that I needed to write up the art work - my portfolio was lit. just all the pictures I'd created and sheets of practice eyes and colour work. That was it - that was the art but there was supposed to be writing too. No writing, no A.

Science was BB - but only because I took the higher paper - I did not finish the exam paper - every question I had managed to answer was right. Maths I'd only gotten to the middle of the paper - Intermediate paper - I got a C again my teacher made a big point that I had gotten everything I'd answered right.

The biggest surprise though was English Lit. I got a B!!! I got a B with a reading age of 12 and a spelling age of 8 - yes I took my GCSE's with a spelling age of 8 much to my English teachers horror! Part of this was the subject matter - I loved my GCSE books - To Kill a Mocking Bird, Of Mice and Men, An Inspector Calls (and Shakespeare - I actually like Shakespeare but I tended to turn it into little comic book strips so I could work out what was actually going on). The anthology had included the poem No Streamin' There - a poem about someone in lower sets who realises that even if they are not good at school the graveyard shows it doesn't really matter because everyone is just dead! The Oakum Room which had me obsessed with womens' right in the Victorian era and the absolute horror that many in my class thought the protagonist (a young mother in a workhouse) was to blame. London - one of my all time favourite poems and The Cream Cracker Under the Settee - a story that still haunts me and was part of the inspiration for how I wrote Alfie's Triumph (though obviously the actual story of Alfie was built up from an actual person and event).

I loved the GCSE reading so much that I'd also been working my way through the entire list of potential texts and not just the ones I'd been assigned - I was still doing this when I moved to Gloucestershire and sadly lost the list somewhere in the move. This how I ended up reading some truly amazing books!

Seriously people check out the books! (Libraries and few downloads... amazon links below).

There was also a lovely film of The Cream Cracker Under the Settee and an audio adaption which you should look out for!

Teachers got hugged on the day of my results - of course not the cute biology teacher I had the biggest crush on ever 🙂 He'd compounded the issue by being the main teacher to rescue my bag for me when it was thrown on roofs etc... he was also only about 22 and not butch! (think a short gothier dressed Alaric), I could barely talk or even look at him!

I was elated, ecstatic and amazed! I had 5 B's, I only just had 5 B's and I had Cs in English and Maths - this meant I had just scraped enough to sit my four A'levels. My friends thought I was mad (the normal at the time was 3) but the head Teacher Mrs Winstone thought it was a great idea and informed me that she had done the same. I was in the top 20 students of the school for my results and there was a special cup for progress The Craven Cup so of course there was a prize given award to go to the following academic year. I chose a book on Geology and it was awarded to me by an Eastenders actor (played on of the first gay roles on British TV) and just happened to be Mr Hogg's (the deputy head or head of year (I can't remember now)) son 🙂

It was amazing that I got through and that I achieved - but here's the thing as I see young people I know stress and panic about exams I think that it is not worth it - it is not worth the health of our kids. Exams are not a good judge of how academic a person is, and academia is not a measure of how intelligent someone is. There are so many paths you can take in life and education should be about the learning and more so... the learning how to learn - not about stressing that you are going to be stuck in a pit of poverty and waste your life and be a big fat failure. This is what is sold to kids, this is the fear that drives our youth to education and it is not a sustainable system.

So I found myself congratulating kids and for others giving them examples of other routes they could take and pointing out they were not failures just because of some stupid piece of paper! Exam learning doesn't stay in most peoples brains - they've crammed and it is slinking away by mid afternoon the next day - not committed to long term memory and actually a lot of it is just fact checking - you don't need that in you brain - you need to know how to fact check but not the instant fact recall! (obviously if you are going into something like the military then how you recall info and behave under stress is very important but that is in the training!)

20 yrs ago I got my GCSE results - my 12 year old bought home a GCSE maths book from school - it was what she is currently learning in class. She likes exams, she doesn't see them as a stressful thing - I hope we can keep it like that for her.

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