No, not the 5th and Final Test. Although I am on my way there as I type this. I am thinking about the tests undergone by today’s A level students.
I’m not saying I wasn’t nervous about my A level results way back when. I was. Very. I had been in prison, was less than half way through my probation and could only be keenly aware that A levels and University were the last best hope for Our Hero.
My generation (I am going back 32 years to the summer of 77) had certain advantages of course. Neither we (nor our parents) were expected to pay tuition fees or take out crippling loans. A generous enough grant was a matter of course, regardless of parental means. To fast forward for a moment, the Dean of my college addressed my freshers year thus: “Gentlemen” (it was an all male institution in those days), “there is an increasing tendency for undergraduates to seek employment in the vacations. We really deprecate this and urgently recommend you use your vacations to read. Read generally, not specifically to your degree. A walking tour of the Alps in summer is always agreeable.” Can you imagine the gales of derisive laughter that would follow such a pronouncement today? Never mind the vacs, students have to work in term time these days.
The real advantage we had, however, is that when we found out our results, there wasn’t a local news team hanging around to record our whoops of joy or howls of disappointment. Nor did we have to tolerate every nuance of our averaged results nationwide being skewed, used and abused by politicians, columnists and cultural commentators keen to demonstrate how stupid, shallow, undereducated and unfit for higher education we all were. How today’s young cope with such encroachments on their dignity I cannot imagine.
Of course August is traditionally called the Silly Season in journalism. Parliament’s out, movers and shakers are on holiday, the editor’s on someone powerful’s yacht and the subs and juniors are in charge. If you’re a student hanging on the UCAS phone line while cameras point at you, don’t forget to ask the journalist behind the camera what their A level grades were.
Heigh ho, taxi’s drawn up outside the Oval’s main entrance. A great ground. Did you know it belonged to the Prince of Wales?