Every secondary school in the country wakes up on the third Thursday of August each year with a mixture of anxiety, hope and feigned calmness.
Businesses in the areas surrounding those schools welcome the annual surge in profits. Well-coiffured PR faces surface with new uses for old words in the English language. Statistics and data are once more used like rubber balls to bounce whichever way the speakers want them to go. Grumpy old gits emerge from their lairs to decry anything to do with the young. We witness the annual feeding of innocents to the maws of academia, employment and false hopes.
Headteachers rehearse their statement to the press with appropriate words to respond to their examination results along the lines of, “the results were as expected/disappointing/unexpected/beyond the wit of man to fathom the idiosyncrasies of those who presume to call themselves markers. Victims had a better chance of fair marking at the hands of the near-sighted judges in the boxing at the Olympics.”
The appropriate version of the Head’s Bulletin to Esteemed Governors and Highly Regarded Parents is dug out of the filing cabinet, printed and stacked ready for posting with checks to make sure the on-line version carries the same message.
The message is in the correct interpretation of the opening words and phrases. Recognise the code and save yourself the dreariness of reading the whole document –
“Unfortunately …” = expect the worst;
“I am delighted to write that at last our hard work has been rewarded …” = I have no idea how we did it, but we punched above our weight;
“While many schools across the country still place undue emphasis on test scores …” = we blew it again and the ‘education for education’s sake’ argument will be the theme of the rest of this sorry apology;
“Unlike the raucous rejoicing in some lesser institutions that desperately scrabble to find some decent results, we here at The Bert Benson Best Academy for the Superior are quietly content to survey another year of outstanding but expected success ……” = we are still the smug bastards that you have to rely on.
Photographers line up to take shots of well-shaped young ladies (preferably from fee-paying schools that need the publicity) leaping in the air, waving pieces of paper and clutching desperately at each other.
Parents who have endured the process with older siblings leave it until late in the afternoon to phone home from their holiday in Spain to listen to howls of delight, or murmured apologetic excuses, or to offer quiet reassurance that Clearing will sort out the mess, or to listen to drunken grunts with music blaring in the background telling them their house is being thrashed.
Pubs in the vicinity of schools run Happy Hours all day and employ extra bouncers to throw out drunk, aggressive or legless 18 year olds as the day progresses.
Book shops stock up on self-help books on survival at university. They roll out displays of their range of Idiot Guides to cooking; studying; taking out a loan that will dog you for years to come; safe sex; responsible drinking; being away from home for the first time; discovering the delights of Aberystwyth on a student budget; avoiding HIV; enjoying your freedom without repression other than from the police; Gay is good, bisexual is better; how to greet and get on with very strange people; discovering the joy of communal living with a group of intelligent, drunk, disorganised and unhygienic students.
Fathers checking route maps to the chosen university will wonder why anyone builds universities in East Anglia or Hull, or what possessed the founders to erect a university in the middle of London making the place inaccessible by car, bereft of parking, with no space for unloading and little hope of escaping the attention of car thieves. Parents tasked with depositing offspring in their new abode, will wish they had given more consideration to where the place was, rather than looking only at league tables and possible job opportunities in three years time.
The third Friday of August is the ‘morning-after’ for the young people in the middle of this annual ritual offering of human sacrifice to the self-serving gods of academia, loan companies, landlords and part-time jobs.
On that third Friday they wake up realising, this is it. They are no longer walled in by a school, nor cossetted by parents, families or familiar surroundings. This is the big one. Their bridges are down in flames. They are on the edge of the nest about to hurl themselves into the briar patch we call modern living. What a frightening thought.
If you give a thought to anyone on the third Thursday in August give it to the young people who have made it this far in spite of politicians, the economy, the prophets of doom, those who decry their efforts and their results and all those ranged against them.
Think only of the young people today. Admire them for their courage, their hard work, their perseverance, their talent, their dedication, their sheer goodness and the innocence that still believes they will succeed because they are good and decent.
Salute them. Wish them God Speed. They will need all the help they can get.