I have been a teacher for 27 years, a Headteacher for 12 years and, at the age of 51, this much I know about A level results day.
How was A level results day for you?
I discovered my A levels results in front of an audience. Dad brought the envelope to the golf club after it had arrived in the afternoon post one August day in 1984. I mooched around the club shop waiting for him with my mate Greg and the two golf professionals, John and Dennis.
I felt confident. I worked hard preparing for the examinations which, bar an essay on The Return of the Native, had gone well. I needed two B grades and a C grade to secure a place at York to study English and Related Literature.
I opened the envelope and read the contents out loud: Economics, grade A. English lit, grade A. Maths, grade A. Greg was thrilled. John and Dennis were chuffed. For only the second time in my life, dad shook my hand and smiled. I borrowed the shop ’phone to tell mother the news and all was done.
The sun shone so Greg and I went to play golf. Dad returned to work his afternoon shift at the Post Office.
As I walked up the first fairway I had one sensation. It wasn’t relief at getting the grades. It wasn’t concern about leaving my girlfriend back in Sussex. It wasn’t excitement at the prospect of studying literature for three years. It was an overwhelming sense of liberty.
I said to Greg, I tell you what. The most important thing about those results is that I can leave home now. I’ll have my own room. You can come up and we’ll have a great crack! And that was it. A good state education had given me a choice about how I lived my life.
Years later, people told me how proud my dad was of my academic success. He must have gone back to sorting letters that afternoon happy and relieved, knowing that his son would not be confined to an unskilled, manual job as he had been for the whole of his life.
This week, across the country, tens of thousands of young adults will open envelopes which will reward them with a room of their own and choice. As a Headteacher, there are 150 or so York youngsters I’ll be rooting for in particular on Thursday, and as a dad there’ll be just one special one…


I might go to France. I might go to my mother’s.  I might even have a baby.  I dunno. I’ll make a decision. I’ll choose. – from Willy Russell’s Educating Rita

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This post has 6 Comments

  1. Your post brought tears to my eyes John. As usual you seem to sum up my own thoughts so movingly. I remember my results very well too – my mum brought them up to Oxford St where I was working in a Sports shop. I opened them in a changing room. She then took me for lunch at John Lewis opposite to celebrate: a real treat. I’m pretty sure I was much less bothered about my own than I am now each summer for my students results – I guess I feel so much more responsibility for them!
    However, there is nothing to beat the anxiety I felt about Son 1’s results two years ago and Son 2’s AS results this year. Horrendous! Best wishes for all concerned on Thursday- particularly the parents!

  2. Hope this year’s results day went well for you, John – as a head and as a dad….

  3. John,
    I can picture the scene perfectly, how times have changed! As a golfer I remember the hours spent at my home club in North Wales, perfecting my swing, the countless putting competitions, often played after 36 holes in the light given off from the bar where we purchased our drinks to sup in the junior room furnished with a couple of old chairs, old golf magazines and a darts board. Playing golf during study leave for my O Levels, sometimes at 6am on an exam day, probably wasn’t that sensible – but I really wasn’t that motivated at 16. I then changed from an independent day school to board in the sixth form and had a great time playing sport and studying in the confines of Welbeck Abbey.
    At the end of two years i left school. My results came out in 1977, the year I passed my driving test. My father, who owned a garage selling HGVs said I could have a vehicle to drive around in, an old Bedford van with the gearstick on the steering wheel. All I needed to do was to fix it because the engine had blown. A combination of my mechanical skills (almost non-existent then), with the far more effective help of some of the other workers in the garage eventually provided me with a means of transport. A summer in France with a school friend beckoned, freedom!
    And so we were in Brittany, it was the year when Elvis died, enjoying cheap wine, camping and seeing the world. I think that I phoned home to get my parents to read out my results because I cannot remember opening an envelope? Two As and a B in Maths, Further Maths and Physics. So off to Sandhurst, 23 years in the Army and then a second career teaching Maths (an MSc and CEng on the way).
    It was a great summer, but results day was much like any other in those clear hot times before global warming!
    The key thing that has changed, our sense of perspective.

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