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The Fine Line to Tread to Graduate Job Heaven

In my first few weeks at Truro High School I have been reflecting on public examinations and their place within our education system. As we have celebrated the successes of our young women in GCSEs and A Levels over recent weeks there has been much media coverage, almost exclusively positive, of the halt to grade inflation.

I would agree that on the whole this is a good thing, as it is vital that Candidate A’s French grade in one year can be measured accurately against Candidate B’s French grade in another year. However, there is a flip side to this and that is that some grade inflation was to my mind driven by improvements in teaching standards and the work ethics of teenagers. A truly fair system will allow for inflation where it is justified. I have my doubts that the current regime would allow it under any circumstances.

Grade inflation was no doubt also driven by a tricky double-edged sword which schools found themselves holding. As universities have relied more and more on examination achievement to assess candidates, we have had to find more and more ways of supporting pupils in their pursuit of the best possible set of grades. I say this is tricky because as educationalists we feel that a narrow approach which measures students almost exclusively against their performance in examinations is not only flawed and short-sighted but can lead to young people being placed under undue pressure.

This pressure has been exacerbated in the recession by the increase in competition for graduate jobs. Graduate employers tell me that it is now commonplace to see a large number of candidates for their few places with CVs which glow with a wide range of work experience, volunteering, internships, community service, extra-curricular endeavours and the like. They include the sorts of pursuits and good deeds with which very few of those doing the hiring filled their time in their teenage years or early twenties. These are fast becoming a prerequisite to a graduate career – and they are how job seekers try to distinguish themselves from others with equally starry qualifications. Now, we could argue that the cessation of the annual grade inflation will help on this account, and in the long term it might, since it may mean the employers can ‘see the wood for the trees’ when they pore over graduates’ qualifications. However, I suspect any aid it brings will be very limited.

The concern I have is how young people are dealing with these increased pressures: not only do they require an excellent set of examination results, but they are also need to provide a suite of other experiences. At the same time, they are bombarded by a social media which is unrelenting in its demands: Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, Ask.fm . . .

For me, this is where single sex education can provide some salvation. It gives the opportunity for young people to grow and learn at least partially protected from some of the pressures of teenage life.

One of my first tasks this term will be to review the ways in which we support and equip our girls to face the pressures of the teenage years. These are years which as adults we often look back on as ‘the best days of my life’. This is partly because of the freedom we were afforded and the chances for exploration we were allowed, and these in turn helped to prepare us for the adult world. As we prepare this generation for adulthood we must not lose sight of this. The balance between this and the creation of the CV which opens doors to graduate job heaven is a fine one, but it is one we will continually strive to get right at Truro High School.

Published by: Dr Glenn Moodie
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