Exams are useful but they can’t define you

A few years ago I attended my youngest son’s ‘Prize Giving’ ceremony, or as I now call it, ‘Watching other people’s children get prizes’ ceremony. I have learnt over the years that it helps to have low expectations going into such events but still two hours is a long time to sit in vain.

adult blur books close up
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Measuring and recognising performance

Recognising children, their abilities and efforts, is a difficult task. On the one hand I have seen prize giving ceremonies that reward only the academic elite where a handful of children scoop up all the awards. On the other I have sat through assemblies (and these go on forever),that acknowledge the achievement of almost everyone in almost everything, including one year the ‘most improved recorder player’, (an instrument in my opinion that no child should even be allowed to continue, let alone encouraged to do so). It’s a hard to get the balance right.

As we head (mercifully) towards the end of the school year, parents are about to receive reports of assessment grading their children into various unvariegated categories (unmercifully for some). For Grade 12’s around the country it is the big one, a piece of paper containing seven or so numbers upon which their fate seemingly rests. 12 years of schooling reduced and distilled into just 14 digits.

We live in an age where we can measure almost everything. Phones and Fitbits can track steps, heart rate, calorie consumption and sleep patterns continuously. Likewise some schools are opening up their electronic mark books for parents to log in (bad news for pupils certainly, but also for parents and teachers) and get an instant snapshot of their child’s academic health.

By the numbers

Recently one of our seamstresses who worked in the school laundry retired. It was estimated she had sewn 130,000 labels onto clothes. That tells a story. It got me thinking what my life would look like by the numbers. Most of this is ‘since records began’ so does not capture everything. Here goes:

  • 1,223,460 steps I walked since May this year
  • 45,811 hits on my blog
  • 44,031 the number of sent e-mails between 2006 and 2016
  • 16,897 steps walked one day in September when I had evening duty
  • 9600 estimated counselling appointments with students
  • 4500 (at least) reports signed for university applications
  • 2533 tweets on Twitter @timothyjejarvis
  • 284 goals I have had the pleasure of witnessing my Under 14 soccer teams score
  • 119 heart sinking moments experiencing my teams concede a goal
  • 56 sermons I have delivered in the school Chapel
  • 53 my Discovery Vitality age (measure of your health relative to your actual age, based on blood pressure, cholesterol and BMI)
  • 47 my actual age
  • 14 end of year staff parties attended

Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.

As the quote by William Cameron suggests the numbers tell you something, but not everything. They don’t tell you about the steps that took you down to school in the evening to be with a student battling with anxiety. Nor do they capture the laboured, torturous steps up the side of a mountain with a group of boys graciously (most of them) waiting for you to catch up. It doesn’t measure the steps taken with a beating heart down the aisle to preach for the first time in the school Chapel, nor the time dressing up the senior (elderly) housemaster ‘Yeezy’ style as part of a sermon. The numbers also tell you nothing about the 14 staff parties (probably a good thing.)

The tale of the tape: Not the whole story

The e-mails don’t tell of the hours of communication with the parent whose child is in serious trouble, nor the plethora of phone calls and WhatsApp’s that accompany a student who is struggling. Statistics about goals scored, or win/lose ratios, can’t tell you of a young man’s tears when he is told he is being dropped, nor the boy on the bus home who rests his head on his friends shoulder after injury rules him out for the season. Sheer numbers of applications processed alone don’t describe one student’s despair when he fails to make the university of his choice (or even university at all), nor the delight and satisfaction when a pupil receives an Oxbridge or Ivy League offer.

And so it is with those numbers on your school leaving certificate. They can only tell a part of your story, and a small part at that. School covers only a limited sphere of life, and exams in turn measure only a fraction of that. No matter your results, good, bad or expected, just remember you are so much more than what the numbers say.


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