This week we had our Certificate Evening for our graduated Year 11s. I always try and go to the evening to be there with them while they get their certificates and awards; but mostly I go to talk to them, to catch up on where they are now and how they are doing. There are mixed emotions to the evening. A lot of the students have moved on, which is a positive thing but it is twinged with a bit of sadness for us teachers to know you no longer carry weight in their lives, especially with students that you spent five years building a relationship with. This year had more impact in this way because I had been a tutor with that cohort from Year 7 into Year 8 before moving onto my current role of Assistant Head of Year. It is true that we as teachers have moved on as well, and with some of the students you have forgotten what they were like already, because you focusing on the next lot, for other students it is a god send that they are no longer in your classroom. One such example was one students who came up to me and boasted “I’m doing really well in English now”. The emphasis was on the now. “I got an A* the other day”. At that point doubt kicked in, so I asked: “What English course are you doing?”. Her voice dropped: “GCSE again”. Ah yes, the student who misread the exam paper and missed out on the C, no all to do with me.
The real story that came out of the evening was one boy. He had been in my tutor group in Year 7 and he came with a ‘story’. I won’t go into too many specifics, but he had a past that was much harder than most, if not all, of his peers. I work in a school where most of the students come from pretty affluent backgrounds and those that don’t sometimes don’t stand out. His background stood out, not that his peers knew on a day to day basis, but in his background was a lot of stress and personal strain, too much for a 11 year old to deal with. From the get go it became an issue, he was getting into fights on a daily basis, he was being kicked out of classes throughout most weeks. At home they found it harder to deal with him and I remember conversations with the then Deputy Head (who also taught him) and the Head of Year that he might not make it through the year, and definitely wouldn’t make it through the five years: he was a boy that we would see go, excluded, moved on. In hindsight, thankfully this didn’t influence the way we dealt with him.
We were wrong. He did make it through the 5 years, he got at least 5 A*s-C grades. He is now at a college doing a course in sport, has a part time job in a restaurant in the kitchen and is fantastic kid to talk to. He proved the world wrong. I think mostly the credit goes to the stability that he eventually found at home but also his personal maturity to move away from the 11 year old that was fighting the world.
It made going to certificate evening worth it. We often focus on the overall GCSE percentages but really they don’t matter. What matters is that the individual students get what they need to move on in life. What they need might not be loads of A*s, it might just mean a safe place to be while they get their lives in order. It’s these little stories that matter the most.