It happens every year these days. Exam results are published, students go into their schools to pick up their envelopes and the TV cameras are on hand to capture the delight of these who’ve got what they need and/or exceeded their expectations. Some are interviewed, generally the better looking ones with a nod towards ethic diversity, then there are photographs of jumping with spontaneous joy. It’s all grist to the media mill but it hasn’t always been like that.
My first exam results were those of my 11-plus. It’s largely an exam of history of course but until the 1970s in Wales every pupil sat it to determine whether or not he or she went to grammar school. It progressively disappeared in England as well although it was not until 2008 that the last public 11-plus exam took place.
I took my 11-plus in 1958 when I was 10 and was a pupil in Alun Edwards 4th year class in Custom House Lane County Primary School in Connah’s Quay. Mr Edwards was a fine teacher who had campaigned for the 11-plus results to be sent out by mail instead of being read out in class. Ours was the first year that happened and I must have got a short letter giving me the good news. We all then took our results into school and shared them with our friends and teachers.
Mr Edwards’ class was the top class of four in the fourth year. They were strictly streamed and most pupils in my class passed and we all went to Hawarden Grammar School. Most of the pupils in the other classes did not and went to Deeside Secondary Modern School. And that to some extent was it. Our futures were mapped out accordingly.
It was all quite different for my O-levels, the precursors to today’s GCSEs, which I sat in 1963. We went to school to see the results posted in the windows. We just turned up, checked them off and went home. It was summer holiday time so there was no school to attend where we might share our results so that was it. There’s was certainly no press, TV cameras or photographers to record the event. All rather low key really but if you missed them on the day you could always check in the local papers , The Flintshire Leader or the Chester Chronicle, at the end of the week.
We’d been streamed and segregated at the Grammar School and the results reflected this and most of those in the top boys’ and girls’ classes got good enough O-levels to progress to the 6th form and those in the other classes did not.
It was back to letters for A-levels and I got two of them. The first was in 1964 when I just sat one exam, the combined Pure & Applied Maths paper. The second was a year later when I sat the individual Pure and Applied Maths papers along with Physics and Chemistry. On both occasions I was away on holiday and my results had to be phoned through to me. The second time I was called away from the meals table to take the call and my fellows said they knew my result from the look on my face when I returned. A-level results were also published in the local papers.
I did exams at the end of each of my three years at University. I guess I must have been informed by letter after years one and two and remember that these results were published in the Times and the Telegraph. For year three I was still at College when the results came out and Ed Libbey and I went down to see what they were when they were posted at the Senate House.
I’d done fairly well the previous years and was optimistic that I could repeat that in the third year. However when I looked I couldn’t see my name, not in the firsts or the 2.1s or the 2.2s. I was looking at the thirds when Ed shouted ‘we’ve done it’ or similar. We had both got firsts and I hadn’t spotted my name because I’d been looking in the middle of the alphabetic list which is where the Js normally come. By a twist of fate mine was the first in the list and Ed’s was the second.
So that was it and back to College for a little celebratory alcohol. And I haven’t taken an exam since.