Friday, 11 August 2017

GCSEs: Living Without Them & Stereotypes

NB: for my overseas readers GCSEs (stands for General Certificate of Secondary Education) are a set of exams in various subjects that a high school student will take at the end of their school career, around the age of 15/16. This comes before college/sixth form (17-18 years). They are roughly equivalent to a USA High School Diploma.

I left school without GCSEs.

There, I said it. I hate saying it. People raise their eyebrows, or go silent, or assume I was a teenage misfit. The reality is, a lot of people leave school without finishing their GCSEs. In my case, it was because from the age of 12-15 I was suffering with anorexia, to the point where I spent years in hospital. I couldn't attend school, as I was so poorly I was at risk of heart attack or organ failure. So when I left hospital, it was kind of too late, and after that I guess partly the system failed me, and partly teenage me was completely wiped out and didn't expend much effort trying to fix the problem.

Fast forward to my early twenties. Have you ever tried to get a job without GCSEs? It's incredibly hard! When I was first job searching, I would have to discount job after job after job, as the adverts all said roughly the same thing: "Must have 5 GCSE's grade A*-C". There was no leeway, no room to offer explanations. It also closed doors for me on many college courses, the irony of which was not lost on me.

The thing is, what people don't realise is, GCSEs aren't always the be all and end all when it comes to indicating both academic ability and also, plain old common sense! I knew a tutor on a college course who left college without passing her exams and went on to get a master's degree. I also knew people with their school qualifications who were astonishingly inept at their jobs. Yet, these qualifications are used as the standard to which every employment and education applicant is held up to. If you don't meet the mark, you either have to find someone who will give you a chance, or you lose out.

When I was diagnosed with Autism last year, they sent me for a test of my intellectual abilities. This is pretty standard procedure- some people with autism have intellectual disabilities, some do not. They just like to get a reading to see where you are. My IQ was measured at around 122, or 'Superior'. I'm not saying that to brag, and I actually hate saying it because it does make me sound a bit snobby. But I just wanted to point out that the stereotype of the shirker who left school without qualifications being a dunce, which I see tossed around regularly, is decidedly not true.

I also read a lot. I read fiction, non fiction, pretty much anything I can get my hands on (except chick lit, as despite being a chick myself, I have never been able to get into it). I have done a BTEC, ECDL, an NVQ and more. But still the gap where my GCSEs should be haunts me.

Just take your GCSEs, you say! The problem is, GCSE courses for adults are sorely lacking, and those that are run by local colleges are often astronomically over subscribed. Most colleges offer a very limited selection of subjects- some only run a single English and Maths course, which would leave you lacking still for that holy grail of five A*-C grades.

I think overall what I want to express is that I don't think they should be the only thing that matters. Each of us is a whole person. We have experiences, quirks, strengths, and weaknesses, and these should make up the package of 'us' when we are being presented to the working and academic world.

If you live with the same 'gap' in your life, I'd be so interested to hear your views and experiences in the comments, or feel free to email me if you'd prefer.


  1. I understand why GCSE's are important but I agree that they are not the be all and end all! They do not measure you successfully there are so many other things that contribute to your intellect.

    Amina xx |

  2. My Mum resat her GCSE'sand cam eout with pretty much all C's and my Dad doesn't have a single one. They are both self employed and are business owners. GCSE's are really handy, they will always be with you and are something to brag about but they are certainly not the be all and end all. You will do absolutely fine hun - you are obviously smart and have the work ethic to go very far with your future career whatever that may be x
    Claire |

  3. I'm so sorry to hear of your struggles and I really hope you're doing a lot better now! I totally agree, I think there is such a misinterpretation of how many people really don't have the GCSEs they supposedly 'need' but it seems as if the only way they can get into work without them are things like manual labour or through a friend which is so wrong! There are all sorts of reasons why people don't have them and no one should discriminate. Great, thought-provoking post!
    Alice Xx

  4. I'm really sorry to hear about what you went through and I hope you're in a better place now! GCSEs really shouldn't be considered to be the be all and end all like tbh who actually remembers anything from GCSEs anyway?

    Carla x

  5. I'm so sorry to hear that you have been through all this! But how brave and inspiring you are to have come out the other side! This is super inspiring and it's so true - we really need to stop putting such pressure in a way that makes people feel pressured or inadequate. Exams really aren't the be all and end all, and they really aren't the sole method of measuring one's intellect!

  6. Not having your GCSE seems to be a small drop in the bucket compared to what you've overcome. Don't give up. You can do what ever you put your mind to. Use the same strength that helped you survive anorexia. Much love to you.


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