16 June 1993 – The most important day in my education?

Yesterday, as I powered down my laptop at work, I caught a glance at the calendar that reminded me that it was 16 June 2023. An unmemorable day? Thirty years earlier to the day had been possibly the most pivotal day of my education. The combination of exam boards and examinations presented me with a bottle-neck on 16th June 1993. It was a mere eight days before my 16th birthday. Eight grades hinged on that day’s examinations (GCSEs in History, Maths, Latin, Combined Science (two GCSEs), two modules for advanced level French for Professional Use, and a Pure Maths 1 paper that I never even asked to sit).

I spent my 16th birthday in hospital recovering from knee surgery. I went into my final GCSE paper nil by mouth. As I walked out of the exam, I went to the local hospital for surgery on both knees that afternoon). Even though I had finished my GCSEs, I had to attend two lessons on 23 June at the “hospital school”. For no other reason than being one day shy of legal school leaving age. This was a week after 16th June.

The bottle-neck of GCSEs and A Level modules, meant I had had to sit two modules in French for Professional Use (the equivalent of a third of an A Level) in the morning. I sat a paper early and ate lunch in an empty classroom to allow me to sit another exam early. The rest of my cohort went into their examination that I had shoe-horned in during the morning.

Alleviating a bottle-neck, not bottling it.

To make the bottle-neck less, I made my day easier by withdrawing from Pure Maths 1. Taking a picnic into the examination hall was unacceptable. By the time of finals at university, Bombay Blue Sapphire and Tonic were in my water bottle. School wasn’t best amused about the whole affair. My laconic answer, “My decision to not turn up is entirely Maths-based”. The “X” I received turned out to be better than the “Y” achieved by one candidate, sitting P1 for the second time. Their performance that morning did not result in an improvement over a previous grade.

An “A” in GCSE Maths as vastly more important than whatever I would achieve in P1. That day was the last time I was ever to do anything educational in relation to mathematics for almost 30 yeats. Recently I started doing maths homework with my eldest son. A couple of friends missed out on “A”s at GCSE after an off day after flunking the P1 paper. I spun it to school that I was selflessly withdrawing from P1 to do another paper into the gap. Doing so ensured there was no extra “isolation” and late sitting of another paper.

Did my rebellion hold me back?

I tend to laugh at the absurdity of it all now. P1 maths (or a lack thereof) hasn’t held me back. I can understand all the calculations for banking supervision and resolution. And of course I understand all sorts of calculations needed to solve a geocache. I can knock up a spreadsheet to game the system over days in lieu and vacation days. In addition, I understand compound interest, realise how to mitigate against exchange-rate risk on a CHF-denominated mortgage and the like. Even in a common currency area, I still understand how to convert currencies in my head. P1 wouldn’t have taught me to haggle with drivers when travelling through Albania,

Ultimately of all the qualifications that hinged on that day, I came out with 4 As, 1 B, and 2 distinctions. And my much cherished X. Thirty years on, it remains the best story that day. And how someone else revised hard, went into the exam, had a shocker and got a Y. Proof that if you have to fail, fail spectacularly and have a story to tell, rather than failing miserably.