It's been a very difficult couple of weeks for the Covid generation - the students desperate to get some certainty back into their lives after months of disruption. Exam results are supposed to give you that certainty- one way or another. But as we've seen they've done anything but that and the methods used in such unique times has caused fear and heartache for thousands. It's hard to accept as a teenager that it's early days and things can work out for you, but I know it's true because I was in the depths of despair many many years ago.
Let's take you back 40 years to those harrowing days when I officially became a "failure". Is harrowing overstating it? Is failure overstating it? It is now, but it wasn't then. I vividly remember standing in a daze as my head teacher, Walter Carruthers launched an investigation with the exam board to find out why I'd failed 8 of my 9 'O' Levels. He never did get a satisfactory answer. Possibly if I'd confessed that I was applying myself more to my golf handicap coming down than my IQ going up then he wouldn't have wasted his time. But if at first you don't succeed they say, well, if you're like me, you fail both your 'A' Levels too. Yep, golf again, and meeting my now wife seemed more important, and by now Mr C was past investigating. I left with my dreams of becoming a journalist in tatters, but with no algorithm, government minister or Ofqual to blame, just myself for a lack of application. I foolishly tried to become a photocopier salesman without success so what was I to do?
Now here's the nepotism Klaxon. My dad worked at the same newspaper all his life, the Sunderland Echo. He went from office boy to MD but hadn't reached the top job at the time of my exam shenanigans. His boss, who I am eternally grateful to, was Ken Lister. He knew of my dream, heard of my grades, and still said let's get him in here and if he's useless after six months he's out on his ear. My dear dad announced this over the dinner table one night adding "but I told him you'd never want to work with me so I said no"! He had to make an even bigger U turn than Gavin Williamson the next day and I reported for duty a day before my 19th birthday.
Now it wasn't easy. I had a lot to prove and I took a lot of stick. I was pushed to the front of picket lines when we were supporting the nurses to embarrass the old man as he drove into work. There was always that feeling that I wasn't good enough and I didn't deserve to be there. But I soon realised that this was my dream and I was going to grab it with both hands. My block release course at Darlington technical college saw a return to exam success. I wanted to do well. I then took my four part National Council for the Training of Journalists course six months early, it's notoriously hard to get in one go, but I nailed the lot. It was held in an office in the Bigg Market in Newcastle. If you're familiar with the area you can guess the celebration that followed! I was proving the doubters wrong, the "failure" tag was long gone and I was making my way in a world that has given me so much. I'm also reminded of the route to the top of my best pal at school. Unlike me he breezed through all his exams, naturally gifted, he went to Uni and emerged with flying colours. His dad had been a top detective and my pal had vowed never to follow him into the force so went down another route to start with. Then one day he announced he was going to become a policeman. He sat the graduate entry exam - and failed. The first, and as far as I know, the only exam he's ever failed. But he still decided to go in at the lowest level, a bobby on the beat. He's just retired as Assistant Chief Constable of one of the biggest police forces in the land.
I suppose what I'm trying to say is that you never know when you're going to hit a bump in the road and get knocked out of your stride. It is though the way you recover that really matters. I didn't expect to get the poor grades at 'O' and 'A' Level and have to rethink my life just as my pal didn't expect to fail his entry exam - but we did - and we both found a way through to achieve our dreams. I used to talk about my early exam grades in what's now known as the "Jeremy Clarkson way". Well, I failed at school, but it didn't do me any harm eh! I'm not so sure that is a badge of honour I want to wear anymore. If I'd applied myself at the time who knows where I'd have ended up. I hope I would have succeeded come what may and would have ended up in the chair next to Christine on Calendar for the last 17 years anyway - but I doubt it. I sincerely hope that the bumps in the road that may have nudged the Covid generation off course recently are not long lasting and they can all plot a route to personal success in the future.