Just two days after we got back from Singapore was Oldest Daughter’s A Level results day. I’m not sure who was more nervous about this – me or Oldest Daughter.
She was nervous because she needed good grades to get into Durham University (she wanted to read Philosophy there). I was nervous because I knew she was more than capable of the grades she needed, but I also knew that one bad day, one exceptionally hard exam paper, one finicky examiner is all it takes for a grade to be dropped.
Oldest Daughter had battled her way through a really tough year. It was a year in which she’d had to cope with pain in her back and legs that was so severe that there were days she couldn’t get out of bed. She’d also had to deal with the emotional fall out of her father leaving. On top of both of these, one of the side effects of the medication she took was increased anxiety which just added to the usual stress of exams. Somehow, however, throughout all of this, she’d remained calm, and kept everything together. She’d focussed on her studies with a quiet determination that made me incredibly proud. She deserved to do well, and I hoped that life wouldn’t be cruel to her again this year.
Whilst her school had generally been very supportive of her and the problems her back condition caused, a couple of her subject teachers had been incredibly difficult about the frequent absence from school that her condition had necessitated. Despite these absences, she had handed in almost every bit of work in on time and was getting excellent grades for the work she was doing, but these teachers would never stop complaining about her attendance rates. At every parents’ evening I attended it would be mentioned, and at every parents’ evening I agreed that her attendance was low and pointed out that she would also far rather be in school than at home in pain. One teacher once referred to it as ‘the elephant in the room’ to which I replied, that it was hardly an elephant in the room, given that it was all we seemed to talk about. We even had to battle these teachers to get the A level grade predictions that Oldest Daughter needed to be considered for Durham – despite the fact that the grades she needed to be predicted were the grades she was achieving almost every day. Comments were constantly being made along the lines of ‘to predict those sort of grades we’d usually expect to see much higher attendance’.
Don’t get me wrong – I absolutely understand the pressure that schools and teachers are under, from the Government’s lapdog Ofsted, regarding attendance rates, but this attitude seemed disproportionate and wrong. Oldest Daughter was hard working and conscientious, her work was almost always on time and to a high standard. Her absences were even specially coded because of her back condition. But despite all this, she was still constantly criticised because she had to miss school. This extra pressure, put on her by people who refused to accept her unavoidable absences, had made her year even harder.
I think the 45 minutes I spent (literally pacing the house) whilst she walked to school and back to get her results were possibly the longest of my life so far.
It’s hard to describe how I felt when I saw my baby (my kids are all my babies – and always will be – they tolerate this fact remarkably well, all things considered) walking up the road with the biggest smile on her face. When she walked through the front door, she didn’t say a word, she just handed me the piece of paper with her results printed on it.
She’d only gone and got A STARS for all three of her A levels plus another A STAR for her EPQ.
She literally couldn’t have done any better (in fact. as my over-competetive Oldest Son pointed out, the only way he would ever be able to ‘beat’ her on this one, would be to get A stars at four A levels and an EPQ when his time came). I was so so happy for her.
I fought tears of pride (and the urge to immediately email Ofsted and say ‘Ha! Stick THIS attendance vs achievement ratio up your hairy arse!‘), and I think I managed an inadequate “well done” before I hugged her so tight we could both barely breathe.
It was one of those glitteringly perfect moments that I will treasure for the rest of my life. It wasn’t because of the grades she got, it was because that her hard work had paid off and she deserved this so much. It was the fact that at that moment it felt like the world was at her feet. Most of all, it was the fact that, in what had been an incredibly tough year for all of us, something had finally gone right.