Robots can get on with it no matter what, they have an in-built programme. But vulnerable young people can’t just be made to follow orders based on the assumption of perfect conditions obtaining – life isn’t like that.


In the aftermath of A-Level results day, there are thousands of 17-18-year-olds across the country contemplating what the next few years holds for them. For many it will be university, for others apprenticeships, full-time work or a gap year.

Unfortunately for some, they may not be preparing for the route they hoped to be going down and others may not have even considered certain options as possibilities for them due to low grades or other restrictions.

Ultimately, a system which requires teenagers to attend school regularly for two years, memorise masses of information and then present it, is fundamentally flawed. I acknowledge there is flexibility — with clearing being an option for those who don’t meet the required grades, as well as extra marks being awarded for extenuating circumstances. Top universities such as Oxford and Cambridge have also worked to increase diversity amongst their pupils, but the bottom line is that many pupils fail to achieve their potential due to circumstances outside of their control.

Surely, we need to change this? Even if it means a drastic change from our current system.

The sheer amount of effort and time that is required to achieve the very top grades inevitably means that those with more available time gain an advantage. What about those with child caring responsibilities, jobs to financially support their families or illness which may mean they have little energy to revise? Of course, this doesn’t take away from the achievement of those who were able to dedicate their time solely to their exams, but it should at least be acknowledged.

From personal experience, it seems the assumption is that when doing A-Levels it is your main burden or responsibility at the time. Teachers often emphasised what an extremely stressful and difficult time exam season is — which completely neglected the fact that for some, A-Levels must take a backseat during those two years whilst dealing with other personal issues. I lost my mum three months into my final year of studying for A-Levels, which meant that for me, the exams very much felt like a secondary issue in my life. The constant reminders that A-Levels were so stressful at a time when I didn’t consider them to be of such importance often meant that I felt like I wasn’t giving them due attention and effort.

The system simply isn’t built to accommodate pupils in similar situations to mine. Many people I know had to deal with personal and stressful issues with varying degrees of severity during their A-Levels — something that was barely acknowledged and certainly wasn’t considered in the marking of the actual papers, since everyone is treated as if they have gone through an identical experience. For some, this may mean they don’t achieve the grades they deserve and even for those who do get onto the path they were aiming for, it is often at the price of good mental and/or physical health.

Realistically, the current education system is fit for purpose and provisions but is often far too black and white. For example, 5 per cent extra marks can be given to students with a bereavement up to six months before the exams. Just from a human point of view, this is clearly not enough as it leaves many with no support at all. There are also programmes which give lower grade offers for university to students from deprived areas, which may benefit those who are balancing work as well as studying. However, overall it appears to me that the current exam system is more suitable for judging robots than people.

There are attempts to patch up flaws in the system with extra marks and reduced grade requirements, but little to nothing is done in terms of emotional support which may be a more effective way to help those who have been disadvantaged to achieve what they deserve to. Maybe it’s time we introduced a more flexible and humane system where each student receives a grade offer based on their abilities and in view of the particular circumstances at that time in their life.

This would be an improvement from a generic offer which leaves many intelligent and motivated young people feeling less than good enough and under great stress.