13th May 2022

I am writing this thought (for Friday 13th…) on Thursday evening, empathising with the students I have seen over the last few weeks who have needed extensions to assignment deadlines. It’s a frantic time in the academic year, with exams starting next week and students predictably stressed and full of the kind of questions that occasionally have me channelling Allan Ahlberg’s Mrs Butler (for those who don’t know this formidable creation, see Please Mrs Butler – Children’s Poetry Archive.)

Young people do so many exams now – from SATS, to GCSEs, to A-levels and beyond. They appear to be constantly judged on their performance in ways that can have very detrimental effects on their mental and emotional wellbeing. And it’s probably not very helpful to call their university exams ‘finals’, as though nothing of significance will ever happen in their lives after the next couple of weeks. So today I would like us to spare a thought and a prayer for young people, their teachers and their examiners. May pupils and students approach their assessments as calmly and confidently as possible; may teachers be blessed with patience and good humour; and may the examiners remember that they once sat in the same places as the students, and be blessed with good judgement and empathy. And may all of us adopt the spirit of some of my favourite words from nineteenth-century German literature:

Nothing connected with grammar and exams counts among the higher things in life. Did the patriarchs sit exams, or Moses perhaps, or Christ? The Pharisees sat exams. And that just shows you what comes of them! (Theodor Fontane, Der Stechlin, translation DP)

Debbie Pinfold