My daughter Rosa is all but through the last school assessments she will ever have to do, the last of our children to have to do this. A levels done, one last BTEC assessment point to go. Whatever she chooses next, exams in sixth form will not return. There will, I guess, be no more attentive sixth-form teachers to coax her from a panic, but equally no school worrying about grades and profiles either. For a brief time (maybe), she has no academic ties. She has “made it.” She is sitting in the garden in the sunshine this evening. I am glad, proud to look out at her, and it prompts this reflection.
Today, by a sort of coincidentia oppositorum I sat in three meetings today considering at University level the marks for semester 2. So many stories passed by, some as numbers only to most of us, a brief window into someone’s difficulties and then on. I raise a couple of questions, and we move on; the meeting is attentive but businesslike. Brookes will have processed about 3000 graduates today, maybe 10,000 undergraduate marks in all, according to John Raftery, the pro-VC. No mean feat. And in some other rooms in a few week’s time, Rosa will appear – a name no-one knows, or maybe “just” a number? – and be processed and then disappear. The computers will reassert themselves, the stuff will go to schools, et voila c’est fini pour la petite Antigone. She becomes a “past pupil.”
It never is impersonal, not really; tutors know the names they are dealing with, understand the cases, in some cases have handed tissues to distraught students, or answered worried emails, or made a judiciously timed cuppa for someone. Tonight, though, I feel the weight of it. I just wouldn’t want anyone – least of all the students who will get their results and be happy or sad or relieved or irritated on Monday, or the students at the end of sixth-form crowding round school doors and opening envelopes in mid-August who may see new possibilities arising and sometimes big plans slip out the picture – to think that these complex and somewhat paper-heavy processes are undertaken by heartless bureaucrats. We do know. We are acutely aware of what our decisions will do, or might do. A mark here, a grade there. We know what they mean.
I look at Rosa in the garden and wonder, just sometimes, how we dare.