Past Performance As A Predictor?

Reflecting on past performance as a predictor of future potential as embodied in official summations of a child’s behaviour; how accurate are those nuggets contained in school reports? Last week 3 candidates for the Police Commissioner elections had withdrawn on account of childhood misdemeanours, relatively minor ‘bad boy’ crimes which they were unlucky enough to get caught for. Most notably was the gentleman whose crime had been committed 50 years ago. Interestingly none of the female candidates have found themselves in the same position although come to think of it I haven’t actually heard of many falling into this category.

Unlike Alfred Hitchcock, whose father asked for him to be locked in a police cell over night when he stepped out of line, the three candidates don’t show signs of being repeat offenders. Mr Hitchcock was left with a lifelong fear of the officers of the law although this doesn’t forgive his treatment of Tippi Hedren whose career he sought to end when she broke her contract with him. OK it was an interview with the actress I was listening to but I confess I will never see his films in quite the same way especially the Birds where she was subjected to live birds being thrown at her for 5 days having previously been told they would be mechanical ones.

Hmm and today the A level results came out with an apparent pass rate of circa 98% with a slight drop in those awarded A and A*(something that didn’t exist in my day). How meaningful is it? Surely it’s more a matter of what you do with the knowledge you’ve gained? I would say that as someone who didn’t exactly demonstrate academic brilliance (unlike my rather clever brother). I worked hard to get my Bachelor’s degree in Agricultural Economics which has frankly done me very few favours! Between starting and leaving university the world changed; graduates in 1990 were no longer guaranteed a job with the Milk Round (remember that) delivering rather fewer pints of milk – yes I was turned down by Marks and Spencers!

The story of Jon Snow, the fancy sock wearing Channel 4 news reader with a penchant for the bicycle (does he don cycle clips when traversing the streets of the Capital I wonder? And I feel the need to know if being in the car behind him would be as pleasant an experience as hearing him read the news; Channel 4 does give one a more complete picture of the global position – like the BBC plus the World Service with a dollop of the Economist thrown in.) Anyway Mr Snow apparently didn’t shine at school and went to do VSO before getting into his profession – lesson to those who were in the 2% and those failing to get the points today hence finding themselves without the prizes! The prize of education being delaying entering the world of employment so you can build up a debt which apparently won’t affect your credit rating; how marvellous and thanks to the Minister who emphasised that student loans only get re-paid when you earn more than £21000! Hello graduates generally aspire to earning more than £21000 by the time they’re 30 if not before – the Big Society is something people do as well as work not instead of it (unless of course they consider this a canny way of avoiding repaying their student loan)! But of course a democratically elected mandate  is the only qualification for Parliamentary membership (or indeed Welsh Government – back when the Assembly was being set up I was working in the Civil Service where we were told we may be asked to brief Ministers (training was absolutely NOT a word to be used!)

So how did the school reports my dad handed over, the last time I was at the parental home, assess my performance? For reasons I won’t go into I went to three different secondary schools of which I have reports from two: in the pink cover we have Edwin Swale School (1981-82) and in the blue cover Gladys Buxton School (1983). For ease of interpretation the grades were defined as follows:

A – Outstanding Personal Effort / Well Above Average (a mere 3 of these during 1981-82; 1983 rising to 7 for effort with only 2 (in fabric and home economics) translating in A for the work!) B – Willing and steady effort / above average – this was my natural home twas ever thus! Steady as she goes; don’t rock the boat; keep your head down yada yada yada! Yawn yawn! C – Tendency to vary in commitment to work / Average – consistent C’s for PE/Games with the accompanying classic ‘always tries hard but finds this subject difficult!’ What amused me most was a C+ for metalwork when I got 84% and came 2= out of 18 people so clearly the outcome and the effort is not always linked!

For completeness and amusement let me share some of the specifics – do please note the variation in handwriting and ask yourself if the subject is in anyway linked to the particular script…

In summary at aged 11 years and 8 months I was:

In detail the pithy little comments unpack those big statements:

By 12 years and 2 months not much had changed overall…

Or indeed in detail..

Aged 14 the Tutor described me thus..yes I was quiet as a (large) dormouse in 1983

The highlights PE/Games from the same person (as the Class Tutor)…

And Chemistry where I got a D at A level (only after a week’s crammer course at a (then) boys public school in the South West (of England) – a most ‘appreciated’ Christmas present – most memorably this was where I ‘learnt’ to smoke!

But most curious was this detailed breakdown on my mathematical ability – next I went to the school where my father taught maths; and I failed my O level first time! Imagine how embarrassing that was for my father – who was most gracious when receiving my underwhelming performance; I went on to scrape a C six months later (having already achieved Grade 1 at CSE (it was always a clue when you were entered for CSE and O level i.e. known as hedging ones bets!)

The most amusing thing about maths was that years later I worked on the Local Government Revenue Finance  settlement where we distributed multimillion pounds (via a very complicated formula) to local and police authorities! The late Peter Law, then Assembly Member sitting on the associated committee phoned me up to ask the answer for specific questions before the meeting thereby enabling him to confidently query the numbers in front of fellow committee members. He was a lovely man and never forgot our discrete conversations (on one occasion giving me a conspiratorial wink when coming into a meeting – I let my boss remained puzzled!).

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