Relief. That’s what I feel right now: Okay, also quite excited. Why so? Well, as with many households across the land I have today received my GCSE results.
That sounds a little bit too grand. I have in fact received my GCSE result, singular. After much study, frustration and time spent in exam test centres, I can reveal that I have passed GCSE maths. There are not many people who can say they’ve just obtained a basic school level qualification in their forties, but I am one of them!
Regular readers of Dadbloguk will be familiar with my maths journey. For those who aren’t, here’s an abridged version of the story.
I failed GCSE maths at school, gaining an E grade. It didn’t stop me from going into higher education or having careers in journalism and PR, but the failure to obtain that qualification had always bothered me.
It became worse as my kids got older and made their way through the school system. When Helen, my eldest child, reached Year 4, I found myself struggling to help her with maths homework. My inability to do maths was embarrassing and I also felt I was setting my kids a bad example.
In fact, around that time I was asked on to the (no longer broadcast) Victoria Derbyshire show with maths supremo Bobby Seagull to discuss why parents have difficulties helping their kids with maths. While live on air, I made a rather rash comment that I’d quite like to sit maths GCSE again and might look into doing so. It took a little while, but I did eventually get around to fulfilling that pledge and in an odd way, I have to thank COVID-19.
Inspired by my kids to study maths again
Why so? Well when the first lockdown was imposed, my kids had some online French lessons and their skills came on massively. This gave me an idea. Why don’t I hire an online tutor, study maths and enter myself to sit GCSE maths as a private student?
I first of all did the free, online, National Numeracy ‘maths challenge’ to assess my skills and then after several months of study with Mike from online tutor Pi Tutor, I sat the foundation paper last November. It was an odd experience as the exam took place in lockdown conditions. I had to take my exam paperwork with me in the car in case the police stopped me and asked what I was doing on the roads (examinations being an exemption so you could travel freely)!
Alas, I passed with a grade 3. An improvement on my E grade, but you need to at least get a 4 for it to be considered a pass (see this infographic to compare the old and new GCSE grading systems).
I try once again. . .
I sat the exam again in January. The weeks leading up to the exam had been tough for a variety of reasons so I hadn’t done as much revision as I’d have liked. As a result I again passed with a 3 but – and this was the painful part – I was just solitary mark away from getting the grade 4 I coveted! Yes, you read that correctly, I missed out by one mark.
. . . and again
Not to be put off, I tried again in April. This time things were a bit more complicated because the Government had changed the GCSE assessment process because of the COVID pandemic.
I had to sit a number of assessed lessons and complete coursework to help my tutor assess my grade. By this point I had moved on to Tom, a wonderful maths and economics tutor.
There were also a couple of exams I had to sit. If you believed the newspaper headlines, you’ll be under the impression that exams were scrapped this year. This is total rubbish. Exams went ahead, but they were marked by teachers instead of external examiners. The grades were treated like mock grades and were a part of the assessment process, instead of your entire grade being decided on exam performance, as it usually would be.
My final grade
The upshot of all this? I have passed passed with a “comfortable” grade 4. A higher grade would have been nice, but a pass is a pass is a pass. It’s all I need and so I am happy with that grade. Including the exam I took when I was at school all those years ago, it has taken me four attempts to get this qualification.
What of the future? Well I won’t be sitting any further GCSEs. That said, a mid-life change of career direction is not impossible. Not having maths GCSE means various career options in the education and public sectors have always been closed to me. They are now possibilities and over recent months, I’ve been giving a lot of thought as to what the future may hold. Watch this space, I may make an unexpected and surprising announcement at some point.
I would like to finish off by delivering two further messages. Firstly, every last one of us should treat education as a lifelong process. There is no reason why you shouldn’t go back and study even basic qualifications years and decades after you have left school.
Secondly, to all those people (young AND old) who have received GCSE and A-Level results this week, I wish you the best of luck for the future. If you didn’t get the grades you wanted, don’t panic. You can retake exams or you can take them again years and years later if you wish. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
Of course I do also have to say a big thank you to the team at the charity National Numeracy (do take its free online maths challenge and assess your skills), Bobby Seagull for being such an inspiration, Mike at Pi Tutor, Tom and the team at The Tutorial Foundation. Big thanks also to my family for tolerating me doing maths study in the evenings.