So with the Summer holidays kicking off and GCSE’s all but done, I wanted to address something I’m passionate about.
Firstly, I want to preface this by saying I’m not endorsing anything in terms of anyone’s education. By no means does this post (or author) want to suggest that packing in your GCSE’s and not trying in High School is a good idea.
That being said, I left High School with one GCSE that is worth anything and a Literacy and Numeracy functional skills certificate (these somewhat equate to GCSE’s).
I’m 23 now, having left school 7 years ago. I now have more education and certificates under my belt than some of my peers who left school with a number of GCSE’s.
Unfortunately, my failure at my GCSE’s wasn’t by choice, and certainly wasn’t because I couldn’t be bothered. In year 9 (13 years oldish) I was moved to the top class away from my friends. Suddenly I was alone, and having already been going through some pretty awful mental health and childhood stuff, I completely collapsed inwards.
I quickly went from being an A student to being a E student and bordering on complete failure. I suddenly had 24% attendance, an alcohol dependency and had discovered drugs. All of this happened between the ages of 13-16, the pivotal GCSE years.
I was buried under a mountain of self-damage and hatred. I was bullied, I was tormented by my teachers who kept “losing” the coursework I did manage to hand in and I was let down immeasurably by the school system.
An attendance teacher used to show up at my house and hammer on my door to try and physically take me to school, despite my parents informing the school of my absences. In the end, my dad approached the school and basically told them that if they don’t stop they’re going to drive me to an early grave. I used to cry if I heard the door knock on a morning, and took to locking myself upstairs away from it. It took years for me to stop feeling that fear when the door went. I can honestly say it was only in the past 3 years that my mind stopped going to fear and anxiety when the door knocked.
My Psychotherapist also approached my school and basically informed them of the same thing, that I was hanging by a thread, that they were making me worse.
Then, at 16, someone trapped my hand in a door at a party and I lost a fingertip. Suddenly my life was hospital trips and yet more absence from school (who had now finally given up on me and told me to only come in to sit my GCSE’s and don’t bother coming to lessons.)
I am of course, being vague about the ins and outs here; that stuff isn’t what this post is about. However, this was my story, for the sake of background.
So with all of this, when I sat my GCSE’s with no education to back them up, I spectacularly failed. It didn’t help that I had a teaching assistant who wrote for me as I couldn’t write as my hand was strapped up.
I was very stoned for my science GCSE’s (My parents will be proud if they ever read this….) and that happens to be the one I passed, shockingly. Again, not endorsing ANYTHING in this post. Don’t do drugs. Especially not when you’re that young – the potential damage is very real.
I was rejected for college after this, to study photography. They wanted me to have an English GCSE which I of course didn’t have.
I walked away from another education establishment feeling like I’d been kicked in the teeth – even though their answer was reasonable in truth.
My Dad eventually directed me to the Open University who have no age limit and no requirements to study with them, they only ask that you can afford to study. They’re a distance learning university. At the time I started working on my degree, they had a scheme for people who couldn’t afford it to do it for free, so I did. I got myself a better Science qualification and an English qualification at 16 and 17, and suddenly I had options again. I decided to opt out of the university with a Certificate of Higher Education rather than a degree, as I wanted the ‘real’ university experience. After a couple of years working in my parents’ bookshop and being a carer for my Mum, I joined real life.
I applied for university to study Psychology and wrote an impassioned personal statement explaining my lack of education. They took a leap, and offered me a place there and then. So I studied psychology for a year.
In the end, I quit as the journey was too long and I couldn’t do it anymore due to failing eye sight, I also realised academia wasn’t for me anymore, not in that sense. I hadn’t been able to apply myself especially well since High school, and it was something I had to accept.
I got myself a diploma from Shaw Academy, another distance learning school, in photography (my old passion!) after finding a cheap deal on Groupon. From this, I applied to study it at a University in Liverpool and that’s now where I am.
After all that dropping in and out and struggles with education, I have a certificate of higher education, 3 GCSE low-level qualifications, 2 jobs, and half a degree under my belt. All without actually passing high school or going to college.
Would I say this is the easier path? Hell NO.
Would I say GCSE’s are worth getting? Absolutely. Even though no one I know has ever been asked to prove their GCSE’s I know when you leave school they’re your best bet to getting anywhere.
However, if you do find yourself in a position where your GCSE’s have flopped – they’re not your only option. My mother-in-law didn’t leave school with much, she’s now a counselor with an amazing job that shes over-qualified for now. It’s all about hard work and determination. Even if the system fails you, there’s something else out there for you. Apprenticeships, distance learning, volunteering – it’s all just as valuable (if not more in some cases, especially volunteering). Just find determination and forge your own path.
Never fear not being academic either, not everyone is. It doesn’t mean you’re not intelligent or capable, some of us just need other things and other routes.
So my answer is, yes, GCSE’s are important – but they’re not the be all and end all, and you’ll be totally okay no matter your result.