Thursday, 25 August 2011

A-level and clearing stress - and that's just for the parents

Today, Thursday, August 25, hundreds of thousands of children will be receiving their GCSE results and I truly hope it is a triumphant day for as many of them as possible.

And what I also hope is that even though some people may be disappointed with their results, they don’t feel quite so stressed as many of us did last Thursday when those A-level results became public.

If using the word ‘us’ seems puzzling when you know that I am, ahem, 30 years older than the average A-level student, then that is because, as many thousands of other people will testify, getting GCSE results (and even more so A-level ones) can be just as stressful for the hapless parents as for the youngsters themselves.

Allow me to explain my story as I’m sure it is one that was mirrored throughout the UK last week.

As I mentioned in my column/blog last time, my son picked up his A-level results this time last week. He would have preferred to do a traditional gap year but despite the powerful arguments against worrying about the increase in tuition fees next year, he just didn’t want to face the extra debt. So, if he got his grades then he was going away next month.


Or so it should have been.

For, sadly for him, although he got very good results, he missed out by just a single grade for his chosen course and it meant last Thursday was about as stressful a day as he has yet had to deal with in his tender years as we entered the minefield known as 'clearing' .

The problem was there were thousands of people like him who wanted to try and apply for one of those clearing (i.e. 'spare') places available - far, far more than ever before because of that tuition fee angst - and every single one of these students needed to get advice about alternative courses from the same UCAS website.

But as the demand was unprecedented the site duly crashed. Big time.

For many anxiety-ridden hours no-one could get on the site and thousands of youngsters around the country – some of whom of course were also trying to deal with the disappointment of not getting their first choice – had to battle with both their emotions and their computers to try and find a solution.

In the end, he got a solution thanks to older technology (The Daily Telegraph listing available courses and then the use of the humble telephone) and he found a great alternative course. I then watched relieved as I saw the wounds of earlier gave way to a new excitement about a different course in a different part of the country.

But of course the stress didn’t end there. On being told he had his place he was then told there was no accommodation left so we then had another scramble to find somewhere for him to live which is always, in my opinion, a fairly important part of student life.

By Saturday it was all tied up and I took him on a seven-hour round trip to see his new university for the first time and sort out his accommodation. It was a stressful, hectic but triumphant few days.

So, I say congratulations to all our successful students and give advance warning to all parents of 17-year-olds. Take the day off on the Thursday of the A-level results next year because you just might need it.

Oh and have whiskey handy.

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