Do School Grades Matter?

Posted on September 04, 2018 by David Walford

Results day was not that long ago, and mocks, exams and assessments are never far from reach for many young people. But are the expectations that society puts on them?

By that, I mean the pressure that schools, parents, and even us as school’s workers can put on young people. It’s rumoured that for the ambulance service, the A-level results day is one of the busiest days of the year after the Christmas & New Year period, as they collect both the jubilant who have adopted and extended the ‘work hard, play harder’ mantra and the broken-hearted who are drowning their sorrows in despair.


So, do school grades matter? Or rather, should they?


The short answer is yes. Obviously working hard, being disciplined and learning are important parts of education (and life in general); and ways of showing that and seeing that are just as important. This means that teachers can help young people to improve and also go over things that classes didn’t pick up the first time. It also gives those who have a wider view of this country’s education to build up a national picture of how young people are doing. Furthermore, we want to encourage young people to not give up, to work hard, to go after their dreams, to change the world for the better, to achieve what we know they can and to fulfil their potential.

However, we live in a society that places more emphasis on results than character, and this is not just exclusive to the world of education. In politics, think of how many influential leaders are involved in scandals across the world stage on such a regular basis. In sport, we see players like Luiz Suarez who, despite biting other players was still bought by one of the world’s best clubs. Even more recently, we saw how the most expensive football player in the world spent a total of fourteen minutes across five world cup games pretending to be injured rolling on the ground.

Whilst appreciating that no person is perfect and that the world we live in is broken, if the message of “the means justifies anything and everything” or that “the end product is all that matters” is the one that young people are receiving, is it any wonder they feel the pressure? Where does it come from? More than that, how is that affecting our young people?


I’m sure if you come into contact with young people on a regular basis, then you’ll be able to see the effects clearly, and I don’t want to delve into the symptoms and issues surrounding these problems. Rather, to see what our role, our responsibility and our challenge is as those who work with young people in school.

 As Christian youth and school workers, it’s fair to say that our priorities in life will most likely be different to that of the education system and quite often different to the narrative that most young people will hear and adopt. This is not to say that there is no overlap, but rather part of our role is surely to call out that which we believe to be true: that there is more to life than results. That their worth is not decided by the list of numbers/letters they get. 

Christianity is not a results-based-religion. It centres on this idea of grace – something that doesn’t fit in to the ‘system’ we live in. We believe that every young person is of value, regardless of the ‘end product’ they produce, but rather because of who they are, who God made them to be. It’s our job to show them the love of God, and to flesh that out to them in a way that seems familiar, to cheer them on when they are struggling as well as when they are succeeding. As C.S. Lewis writes “the Christian does not think God will love us because we are good, but that God will make us good because He loves us”.


Our place in this

We are in a unique place and role when we go into schools as we aren’t part of the native school system. While this also presents plenty of challenges which you may have come across if you are well versed in doing schools work, by effectively being ‘immigrants’ in this world, we don’t have to follow the same rules as teachers and headteachers. We can create our own curriculum, we can be more flexible than they are allowed to be, and we can challenge the status quo from a different direction than most other bodies. Parents don’t always have the ability to be or see inside the school and the school realises that parents are inevitably biased (what parent wouldn’t be!). For students, it’s difficult to challenge the system without critiquing those that hold it. The teachers I talk to are already overworked and already doing their best. But something that is more important than just the position, the title or office that we hold, it is the very fact that we have relationship with the school and the teachers. For a school to know that we have their best interests, as well as the young people’s best interests at heart, and have shown this time and time again through our actions for a number of years, means that we have more of a ‘right to speak’ in that context.

When we are regularly in a school context, embedding ourselves in the very fabric of the way the school operates, we are able to express something of the Incarnation; the way Jesus fleshed out the love of God in our context in a way that looked familiar and yet so different.



So, what does this look like?

Truthfully, like many things within school’s work, the best stuff is contextual and comes from that relationship that I spoke of earlier. That being said, here are some ideas which may spark something for you in your school(s):

  • Create spaces that are pressure-free
  • Work with the school to change the emphasis
  • Challenge structures of injustice

You could ask to use a room for when exams are happening in school (not just the bigger summer exams, but any exams in school) and create a ‘safe space’. This would be a place for young people to go before/after exams where they don’t have to think or talk about exams, and they could hang out with friends, or calm down/get ready for their next test.

Some of this pressure can stem from the schools themselves who are under pressure from Ofsted and governors etc. But a school’s attitude towards exams, assessments and grades can change the way a young person approaches them. I have heard of school’s writing letters to parents of GCSE and A-level students encouraging revision and hard work, but also painting this tests in a wider perspective of a student’s lives, which has gone a long way.

Part of our role as Christians is to fight for justice and if we feel that there is any part of the world that is not set up to help people, we have a responsibility to face this. Whether this is to do with education in any way or something else altogether, this often looks more political than we first think. But I encourage to get involved in having your voice heard, whether that is to vote for the first time, or to go to local council meetings, or potentially more than that.

Let us know what you think, we'd love to hear from you!    

  • Wayne Dixon

    "Your value as a person can NEVER be solely judged on a set of exam grades" This is part of a session I share in schools called 'Examattack; and which I've been presenting in schools for 28 years now. I did a year 11 group just this morning which was the 13th school around here this year. Then both today and yesterday chatting with some year 13 students in different schools unpacking this and attention was drawn that some (maybe many?) do believe their value is only mesaured by grades. Interesting and for me a bit alarming. If 'Examattack' is useful for to those you know in year school year 10-13 see