“Seventeen isn’t an unusual age to be getting your GCSE results back – resits and all that… But it is, perhaps, unexpected to be receiving your first ever GCSE grade at that age – the only the one, too.
“I tried not to be disappointed over it. Even now, I try to remind myself of the different path that I took, and how that one GCSE was actually sort of a miracle.
“As a young child, I was taken out of school by my mum, and I spent the next decade or so being taught at home. It was just the two of us, with her doing her best. But it was a pure and simple fact that I wouldn’t have the same opportunities at home that I would when at school. There’s maybe nothing that shows that as clearly as my GCSE experience.”
“GCSEs simply weren’t offered to people in situations like mine.”
“I finished ‘school’ at 16 with nothing. GCSEs simply weren’t offered to people in situations like mine – I’ve had to come to terms with that. Even when I finally joined college, there was an assumption that I couldn’t study for GCSEs yet and that I would struggle. Despite that, when I did my pre-entry assessments, the opposite was true.
“There I was – having not studied English in a classroom since the age of seven – back in formal education for the first time in almost a decade. I was suddenly studying for a massive qualification that I’d never thought I could achieve – a GCSE in English Language and Literature. It was the very meaning of a ‘pipe dream’ for me.
““Could I do this?” I would ask myself, during every lesson. “Can I get a grade that isn’t a hard ‘Fail’?” Despite the nerves, I was so excited.
“I wasn’t alone, though. Ste, my Career Connect adviser, was there for me the whole time – it was with his support that I applied for college in the first place. And it was his continued encouragement that helped me to stick with it. He was always there whenever I needed a few words to boost my confidence, or to rant about test results.
“When I first met Ste, I was a 15-year-old who didn’t believe in myself much. I remember his first words to me quite clearly; he asked me what my dream was. And he didn’t accept limitations. He made me think. “What would your dream be if you had actually gone to school?” or had more GCSEs, or a mainstream educational background? Ste only cared what I wanted to be, and then he did his utmost to help me realise that; offering advice and support whenever I needed it.”
“It’s strange, looking back, how certain I was that I’d failed.”
“When results day came about, I was already in a panic about my next year of education – pretty much everywhere I’d looked at – or applied to – had a requirement of dozens of GCSEs, all of a C-grade or higher. I was convinced that I’d probably get a D anyway, because of my alternative path there. The fact that I was sure I’d flunked the exam (which, according to my sister, everyone feels like) didn’t help.
“It’s strange, looking back, how certain I was that I’d failed – that no matter what grade I got, it still wouldn’t be enough.
“But then. I got a ‘B’. I’d done well! I had, in fact, got the highest grade out of anyone in my class – a fact that still seems ridiculous. I’d also achieved my Maths Functional Skills Level 2. I’d applied myself, my skills.
“Here was my reward: A solitary ‘B’, but it felt amazing! Strangely isolating, in its own way – no one really thinks much when you say your single GCSE isn’t that bad of a grade. There’s an inherent sort of judgement to it – that you got one ‘B’ and the lack of anything else must’ve been a complete failure on your part. But even if it had been, I’d still be proud of that ‘B’. Our successes aren’t measured by how many failures surround them, after all.
“Still, that negativity carried with me. One ‘B’? I thought to myself. No one will want to take me on, anyway.
“But Ste wasn’t so certain. I had my doubts – especially after more than one course refused to look at me, but then, at Ste’s suggestion, I approached the college’s Performing Arts team that same day. They were offering a Level 3 course, but I only met the requirements for a Level 2. I remember my heart sinking when they told me that. I figured I already knew how this was ending.”
“Everything changed after that day.”
“I left the college on Results Day with the same morose feeling in my gut that I’d entered it with… until, an hour later, when they rang me back to offer me a place on the course!
“Everything changed after that day. GCSE Results Day was only a small occasion in the grand scheme of things, and my life has snowballed in other ways since. That Level 3 college course led to me getting into university, still with that one GCSE. It led to my now-job, still only with one GCSE.
“And I did so much over the years, thanks to that GCSE. I’ve written and directed and starred in plays, been on tour around the country. I’ve watched huge productions on the West End, I’ve travelled to new countries to see different art styles and plays. I did so very much, I still can’t believe it was me involved in those things.
“And I like myself so much more now.
“The support that Ste and Career Connect offered throughout my educational experience is invaluable. Without it, I genuinely don’t think I’d have coped half as well as I did.
“And, as for my current job – I’m helping people in in the way I was helped. Maybe it’s not the obvious choice, but I love it because – really – if Ste hadn’t seen something in me that day, if he hadn’t believed in me, I would never have believed in myself. If I can pay that forward, then I will, by inspiring other young people who don’t see a path forward. It also allows me to write, which has always been my passion. I’m helping to share the important stories of others who have overcome barriers to achieve great things. I’m endlessly grateful for the opportunity.
“It’s not that GCSEs don’t matter because, if they didn’t, we wouldn’t have to spend so long studying for them. But it’s more that GCSEs show your potential as a person – that you have knowledge, that you can use it, that you have a willingness to learn and improve yourself.”
“It doesn’t mean you’re stupider than anyone else, or that they deserve opportunities that you don’t.”
“Not having as many GCSEs as your classmates – or maybe having lower grades than them – isn’t a sign around your neck saying “this person will never achieve anything ever!”. It doesn’t mean you’re stupider than anyone else, or that they deserve opportunities that you don’t. It just means you don’t have that GCSE.
“There’s always a second attempt, always someone willing to take a chance on you – that’s what my Results’ Day, and the support and guidance of Ste, my Career Connect caseworker, showed to me. It showed me that I still had a great future to look ahead to – one which wasn’t hindered by my lack of GCSEs.
“And that’s what a lot of tutors and mentors saw in me, even when I didn’t see it in myself.
“It’s what Ste saw in me from the start.
“Hopefully, you can see it in yourself, too.”
Not sure what you want to do next?
If you want to discuss you future career choices, want to know what your options are, or maybe you didn’t get the results you were hoping for and need advice on the next steps, we have local teams waiting to help you. Contact them on the following details:
- Liverpool, Wirral, Halton & Knowsley – contact [email protected]
- Sefton – call 0151 944 6100 or email [email protected]
- St Helens – contact [email protected]
- Salford – call Salford Connexions on 0161 393 4500 or email [email protected]
- Manchester – call 0161 232 7863 or email [email protected]
If you’re aged 15-19 in Manchester and need advice & guidance, our Connect To Your Future programme offers tailored mentoring and wellbeing support to help you achieve positive career outcomes. Click HERE to find out more.