For four years I have been haunted by a ghost of my past. Not a person or a place but a GCSE.
I spent the whole of primary school preparing for my SATs, flowing from” out-of-class extra study” to “in-class extra help” I spent primary school, those formative years where you begin to become a person, being told I was terrible at school, specifically the core subjects.
I was “a stupid child”.
I hated school. I felt ashamed, stupid and like no one wanted to be my friend. A few words classmates would use against me were very ablest, an introduction to something I would encounter time and time again throughout my life.
At multiple points I was taken for a dyslexia assessment, I was on and off again dyslexic, which made getting support very hard. At the time, 2010, eight year old girls didn’t really have ADHD. We were constant readers who didn’t seem to put the same effort or care into class, day dreamers and chatterboxes.
At one of these Dyslexia assessment’s the report read that I must improve at:
- Phonological skills
- Visual sequencing and memory
- Using b & d
- Postural stability
- Inability to see/process my errors
I was noted as anxious, which was evidenced by fidgeting, which knowing what I know now, was probably stimming.
It’s also important to note that I had areas of strength, in terms of understanding words and reading quietly alone. In fact at 8 years old my reading age was 8.5
Looking at this now this is totally a sign of my brain not being totally typical.
If I had access to the correct diagnosis, or even an indicator, a pointer in the right direction, then maybe, just maybe, I would have had a shot at getting through.
With my confidence knocked I fell further and further behind and my perception myself became worse and worse. I hit that spot of “well if I’m not good at it, why should I even try” by the time it was time for high school.
Enough of what I had to say about school, what did school have to say about me?
Year 7 started strong, with a fresh clean slate after we moved:
“Enthusiastic and willing to contribute during oral and mental work, but must continue this with written work”
As I settled and moved to year 8 I became:
“Needs to take a more active part during oral and mental work. Although she has completed a satisfactory amount of work, it is apparent she doesn’t always listen carefully”
before a scathing review from my year 10 teacher:
“Holly does not always work to the best of her ability…Her attitude and effort varies from lesson to lesson, at times she lacks the focus and concentration to make the expected progress; she occasionally forgets the correct equipment. In lessons Holly does not organise the work well, she rarely shows the given and expected information or enough working out”
You can see the decline and put the pieces together.
I was miserable.
I didn’t like being bad at Maths but the spiral had gone on too long and no one had noticed I was unhappy like that. There was about a fortnight straight where I was in detentions after school for what was basically a list of ADHD signs.
I was inattentive, unorganized, loud, annoying, unwilling, not working to the best of my ability – this was said in classes where I gave my all. I was heartbroken and went home thinking that I would never be able to be enough.
I wasn’t focused, my attitude was always wrong and I just would not listen!
Whenever I spoke about my struggles I didn’t have the words to describe what was going on, and when a kid says “I HATE SCHOOL” people just go “yeah you and every kid.”.
I went on to try Maths three more times.
The first time in college I was told I was smart enough so should pass easy: If I can do a level 3 Journalism course, I can do GCSE Maths. I left with a 3 (equates to about a D)
Again, the next year I asked to go on functional skills and was refused as again “I should be smart enough” and “functional skills doesn’t look as good”. I got another 3 and left college with no hope and a bad attitude.
I decided I could do it again, muster up the confidence and go to a local college for a few months but when I still couldn’t do it, everything got on top of me and I stopped attending. I never dropped out and got an N/A (Non Applicable).
Needless to say, me getting my Maths qualification looked impossible and I felt well and truly failed by the education system.
Most jobs require a GCSE or equivalent in Maths and English, without it the only place that seemed to want me was minimum wage zero hours jobs.
… and MINT business club.
I started with MINT business club, and then when that finished, I began my Apprenticeship with MINT too, where a Math qualification was yet again, a massive hurdle. I had developed almost a phobia of Maths, and I cried at the entrance exam, I cried at my first session and I cried at least twice at the thought of getting through!
But I kept going. This was going to be different. I had an understanding of myself, I was being supported, I was able to confidently say “My brain doesn’t work like that”.
I was doing finally doing Functional skills!!!!
My tutor Graham was kind, and supportive and didn’t rush me through. I was allowed to complain about nonsensical questions (what even IS a mirror trim and why would you not just guesstimate?).
Who would have guessed, the very thing I had come to terms with never having…
It put such a block on my life
The most ridiculous part is that I required it to finish my apprenticeship and when job hunting it’s always “do you have an English and Maths GCSE” even if it has no relevance to the position.
I feel in these situations judging a person by their personality, skill, knowledge and willingness is so much more important than asking if they were able to remember a random bunch of useless equations.
If you find yourself disagreeing, go through a mock GCSE paper, you can download them online. Go through and see how many of those questions are relevant in day to day life in non-specialised careers. When was the last time you needed the volume of a triangle and couldn’t google it?
The lack of understanding and support for kids who learn differently, whether they are Neurodivergent, disabled or other, is disgraceful.
Teachers have no time or resources to help these children, nor is the proper education for teachers in place.
The environment from day one can be wrong: Loud, full classrooms, full of buzzing electronics, busy walls and the bright white overhead lights. Restrictive and uncomfortable uniforms and being forced into rooms. As an adult you can request change or just walk away from conversations if needed but children are not given that choice.
Its setting up kids to fail… and it’s high time we FORCED a change!