Updated: Aug 25, 2019
Twas the night before Christmas, oh, wait, sorry, GCSE results downloads.
Go again, from the top.
Twas the night before GCSE results downloads and all through the house, headteachers were bracing themselves for the next 48 hours. Because for secondary headteachers, there really is no greater test of personal strength than this most eagerly anticipated and longed-for night of the year. Not only do you have to put on your virtual santa hat and download a year's worth of work in one night, you also have to deliver parcels in the form of GCSE results to all the girls and boys. And much like Christmas, there is usually a good list and a not so good list - the students who got what they needed, and the others, who didn't. And that's where my silly christmas analogy ends, because that's where real lives come into play, where children's lives and futures are turned on their heads by the contents of a thin brown envelope. How can that be right?
I know it's not really just the one event, it's the culmination of 11 years of formal education, but the moment itself is utterly life changing, whatever the outcome. As adults, we still remember that day when our turn came, and we each have a very personal memory of how that day shaped our lives and the judgements that came along with it, which we still carry with us today.
It seems bizarre, and even cruel to me, that our education system nurtures and supports, encourages and coaxes for all those years and then, in the time it takes to rip open a manilla envelope, we take our young people, pat them on the back or mop their tears, and kick them out into the big wide world to do the best they can without us. It seems unbearably harsh, in fact, especially for the ones that needed and valued that support the most.
Anyway, this isn't the place to redefine the UK's education system, that's for another day, but this is a day when every adult in the country should stop, pause, reflect and consider this defining moment in the formulation of our next generation, and ask themselves if this is the best that we can do.
This is the first year that I won't be in school for GCSE results download day and I'm going to miss it, bizarrely. As a previous data manager, SIMS manager and then exams officer, I've played a key part in GCSE and A level days for a long time. In later years, as an SBL, I've been there to steady the ship, to centre a wobbly Head, to make the tea, to corralle the kids, stop the parents from parking on the double yellow lines, write the press releases and ensure the photos of jumping teenagers contains an appropriately diverse mix.
It's an odd time in the school calendar - August is the domain of the Premises Manager, who, as a breed, do all they can to keep anyone who isn't a contractor out of school. Then, on that one day, the day after the download, the bright eyed and bushy tailed teaching staff bound in, still sun-kissed and dressed in civvies, crashing through taped off areas, parking in the coned-off car park that's full of skips, expecting there to be full access to their classrooms, the IT network and for there somehow to be plenty of milk in the staff room fridge.
Milk has a higher street value than glue sticks, on GCSE day, and anyone with a Rich Tea biscuit is frankly godlike. But the only milk to be found will be in the Head's office, because the Business Manager will have stopped off and bought some on the way in yesterday.
(There is, of course, a secret, larger stash of milk and superior quality M&S biscuits in a secret location known only to the Business, Premises and IT Managers, but that's not for sunburnt teachers, glory-hunter governors or the opportunist junior hack from the local paper, this milk and biscuit stash is for the AYRs - the All Year Younders, and no-one else needs to know about that.)
And so, as we fling open the one fire door that isn't being replaced, and welcome our returning year 11s lovingly into our halls and libraries (or canteens, at a push, if the library's being painted or the heating work in the hall isn't finished yet), and we hold our breath as we watch them open their destinies.
We already know the results, of course we do, but we can't let them know that, it's their moment, not ours. We've already highlighted a list of names for the photographer to hang around by, to capture that special photograph that will grace our websites and promotional brochures for the next 12 months.
And in another coloured pen, we've highlighted another list, for the pastoral leads to catch, quietly, and to lead away to speak softly with the careers team, in another room.
And so whatever happens tomorrow, let's extend our love and support to Headteachers everywhere, as they bear the burden of hundreds of futures. Not only of their students, but because of an accountability system that judges 11 years of effort in a snapshot, they also hold the futures of their teachers, their leaders and themselves.
Fare well and good luck.