Words are powerful

A-level results day is approaching and this year, falls on 18 August – the exact date when, 28 years ago, my friend killed herself on a-level results day. None of us in that school year have ever forgotten Charlotte, and every year, we always get in touch with each other on results day.

So imagine my horror when I see the news headlines this morning:

“Prepare for disappointment, A-level pupils told”

“A-level results day: Pupils told to prepare for ‘disappointment’ amid ‘grade inflation’ crackdown”

“A-level grades crackdown: Students are warned they face ‘disappointment’ when results are announced this week as exam boards tackle spiralling grade inflation – with up to 60,000 at risk of missing out on first choice university”

Being an 18-year-old is tough enough, waiting for results are bad enough, but to be told that all the work you have put into the last two years, and more, may well amount to nothing? And to tell them this just before the results come out? It is just shocking.

It is not just that – it is the language used. “disappointment” is a feeling that no one ever wants to feel – especially vulnerable young adults trying to find their way in the world, and for who getting the grades they want is the first path to the rest of their life.

At the time of Charlotte’s death, Norwich coroner, James Hipwell, said her disappointment at her grades was the reason for her suicide, and he criticised the exam pressures on young people. “Youngsters appear to be evaluated nowadays only on the basis of A-level grades as opposed to their own characteristics, personalities and abilities. These pressures were not there generations before.”

So to parents, family, friends reading this – if you know someone getting their results this week, and next, be extra kind to them. No one should have to face disappointment from those who have decided, right now, to change the rules.

Schools – please, please have extra support for those getting their results this week. A few days’ notice that grade boundaries have changed is not enough time for 18-year-olds to re-evaluate their dreams and goals, and they will be worrying about getting into university, apprenticeship, and so on.

I cannot believe that, in this so called enlightened day and age of awareness of mental health, that this has been allowed to happen – and with such language.

Words are powerful: be careful how you use them.

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