To the young, the naive, the hopeful, the proud, the scared witless and the future teachers of my kids,

Inspired by this morning’s @HPUKStudents tweet, I thought I’d share #WhatIWishIdKnown about my GCSE results day (overlooking the glaring need for an apostrophe). It’s more than a tweet, but I’ll try to keep it snappy. You’ve celebrating to do.


First of all, congratulations on your GCSE results day

You made it. Regardless of your results today, please try to enjoy this early chapter in your long and colourful life, while countless adults attempt to piss on your chips.

I remember the panic. Will I get the results they predicted? How will I compare to my friends? Will my parents be proud? Why do the brightest girls look sexy and the brightest boys look like playdough?

Everything in my life has come down to this moment.

Well, yes. But you could say that about breakfast tomorrow. Which is why, from our comfortable office chairs, it’s easy for adults to dismiss GCSEs (and all school exams for that matter) as ultimately meaningless. And it’s very cruel. No doubt you’ve all just been through hell, and these last few days have felt like a steady walk to the gallows.

Likewise, those adults who sneer that exams are getting easier – they’re arseholes. The curriculum they studied prepared them for a life that’s technologically, culturally and economically aeons away from the one you’re leading right now. They wouldn’t have the first clue how to be you. Comparing your two exams – now that is meaningless.

So let me try and tackle this more gently.


Will these results have a big impact on my life?

If you want to be the Youngest Ever [insert job title here] then yes. They’re going to be a factor. If, however, you don’t yet know which direction you’d like your life to lead (and I’ll let you into a secret – most adults don’t), your results are only important right now.

In a few years you won’t even list them on your CV.

A few years after that, you’ll have forgotten pretty much everything you learned.

A few years after that, you’ll barely remember your results.

By this time, your job prospects will be decided on the strength of your character and a bulleted list of certifications and skills you’ve picked up in your working life – many of which your GCSE teachers won’t even have heard of, let alone be able to teach. The most relevant ones probably don’t even exist yet.


So are GCSEs important?

Yes. They prove that right now – amongst all the distractions of a world that’s opening before your eyes – you have the ability to lock focus and apply yourself to something. What that is, doesn’t actually matter. You’re showing you’re a safe pair of hands.

You’re also a number. Sorry about that. But while you’re at school you’re a tiny part of a system designed to deliver broad results. Exams are that system’s way of taking all the thousands of incredible, unique bits of chaos like you and standing them in a line from best to worst. Which is mad. But you need this system to progress to the next one – further education (not that you have to, of course). It’s not like this in the real world. You can get paid to type nonsense off the back of a brazen CV and flashy website. It’s brilliant.

Finally, these exams are proof to your parents that all their hard work is paying off. That might not mean much to you now, but just wait until you’re a parent, and you’ve labelled the house with flashcards, read every bed time story and followed every trick in the book to help your child ‘develop’. Their job is you. And they need to know they’re doing ok. You owe them much more than this, but for now it’s enough.


In short

Here’s what I wish I had known on my GCSE results day:

  • Work hard: if only to surprise yourself with what you can do when you really give it some.
  • Enjoy the thrill of learning: Never let that die. You’ll need it every day of your life.
  • Get used to feeling out of your depth: It’s a sign you’re testing your limits and you can guarantee you’re not the only one feeling it.
  • Surround yourself with people who challenge you: We’ll always copy what others do. Right now, life feels like it’s about survival but soon it’ll be about growth. So seek out the ones who are figuring out the kinks and help each other along.
  • Don’t panic: Nothing in that envelope can lock a door indefinitely.
  • Enjoy today: This is just the beginning of your massive, awe-inspiring, continent-spanning life. So take it in. Breathe. And enjoy the moment. Nothing is broken. Everything is still possible. And pretty soon you’ll be in charge.