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How I did in my GCSEs: familiar faces recall results day


The name of the exams may have changed over the years but the emotion of getting (or not getting) one's grades has not

Stephen Twigg, shadow education secretary

I am old enough to have been at school before GCSEs were introduced. I did O-levels at Southgate comprehensive school in 1983. To be honest, I was a bit of an anorak; one of my hobbies when I was 12 was doing my own geography projects at home.

I remember going into school for my results. I had taken English language early and was disappointed to get a B. My mum had very high expectations so it was a relief that I got As in my other subjects.

My subject choices wouldn't have pleased Michael Gove; I took only one science (physics) so I wouldn't have qualified for the EBacc, had it existed back then. I even took sociology – which I found very rewarding. Assessment was based purely on examinations (sounds familiar?). This worked well for me as I was good at memorising things. I got an A in physics because I remembered all the key formulae and knew how to apply them.

The idea of "turning the clock back" to the kind of exams I sat in 1983 flies in the face of good evidence about assessment. I celebrate the positive impact of GCSEs in supporting far more young people to get the opportunity to enter higher education. Although I went to university in 1985, some of my school friends left education at 16.

Michael Rosen, writer and broadcaster

My O-level marks came out in the last day or so of a six-week holiday I was spending in the Ardeche at a colonie de vacances (summer camp) where I was the only English person. As this was pre-mobile phones, no one had told me what marks I had and to tell the truth, it wasn't uppermost in my mind when I arrived at Victoria to be met by my dad and brother. I got into the black Ford Consul with my head still thinking in French teen slang, full of scenes of canoeing, caving, midnight walks, river-swimming and raiding vineyards. I sat next to my father on the front seat and started talking about the colonie and he said: "Don't you want to know your marks?" My brother, a long-suffering victim of this kind of interrogation, imitated him, saying: "Don't you want to know your marks?"

I said: "OK, then.

He said: "Mostly 2s. You managed to pass your Maths and German. Not one distinction.

At this, my brother on the back seat, fell about laughing, repeating: 'Not one distinction. Not one distinction.'

I think a lot was going on at that moment: my brother's relief at not being the target, my focus on something vague and romantic elsewhere and my father's immigrant anxiety that I would turn into a loafer.

Joan Bakewell, journalist, television presenter, Labour party peer and president of Birkbeck, University of London

In the 1940s, the school certificate was the main exam, followed two years later by the higher school certificate with a scholarship version alongside it. I did the lot. Nine subjects in school cert with four Higher and two scholarship. But it didn't go the way I had hoped.

The world then belonged to the grown-ups. To my parents' delight I had passed my 11-plus and was a pupil at Stockport high school for girls. Many of its teachers had been there for decades, that generation who lost their menfolk to world war 1. They were strong women insistent that their "gels" should do well. But not all of them liked me.

The results of my school cert arrived by post in a brown paper envelope and were opened by my mother. Marking was rigorous; "distinction" went to marks over 75%, "credit" to marks over 60% and "pass" to marks over 40%. I had taken nine subjects, and got sic distinctions and three credits. I remember being quietly pleased with my result but don't recall any family congratulations. The mood was always a rather discouraging "what a pity you didn't do better".

The disappointment was to prove to be mine too. When it came to discuss which subjects I might study in the 6th form I was passionate to study English. I was mad about drama, loved poetry, devoured novels. Alas, it was not to be. I had only got a credit in English language. The mean-spirited English teacher, Mrs Quick – given to favourites of whom I was not one – declared that my distinction (In English literature) and my credit were simply not enough. She would not take me into her 6th form class … and that was that. In those days a teacher's word was law and though my parents knew I was disappointed they were far too awestruck to challenge a grammar school teacher. That's how it was.

Instead my 6th form choices were History, Geography, French and Latin, at which I did well. I got a place to read economics at Cambridge and went on to study economic history with brilliant Eric Hobsbawm. So no disappointment there.

From then on my love of English was confined to student plays and performances. But when my two novels were published I thought of Mrs Quick.

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