Looking after the kids: Rod MacKinnon
IN recent weeks, and in common with other teachers and parents up and down the land, I have been delighted by the outstanding success of so many of our young people in A Level and GCSE exams. I believe that exams have an important place in monitoring and developing academic excellence and I'm always pleased when well-deserved grades open doors for our students to pursue their chosen studies at a higher level.
But I have also had two conversations during the same few weeks which remind me that academic achievement is not the only prerequisite for a fulfilled and happy life. In both cases, my encounters were with people who have not taken a traditional academic route into adult life and the world of work but who have nonetheless forged impressive careers, stable families and an infectious enthusiasm for life-long learning and discovery about the world.
Firstly there is Colin, a neighbour of mine who runs a very successful local business. All Colin really remembers about school was that it was 'OK' and that he quite liked art lessons. He left as soon as he could (in those days, even before he was 16) and completed an apprenticeship as a fitter. As he showed me his exercise books from those days, I was amazed at the quality and detail of his diagrams and notes.
Clearly, his meticulous attention to detail and the care with which he undertook and presented his work had not suffered from his early exit from academia and I imagine they have been the foundations of his commercial success too. My second conversation was with Steve, a self-employed heating engineer who came to do some work in my home. Similarly to Colin, Steve left school as soon as he could and yet his technical understanding of electronics and physics, his aptitude for problem solving and his head for figures are contributing to a very successful career in an industry that is much in demand.
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As he worked, Steve talked enthusiastically about his family's upcoming holiday to Italy and the various cultural and historic sights they would visit. He is clearly a man of varied interests and wide learning who successfully balances a career he loves with family life.
Both Colin and Steve are examples of hugely talented, well balanced and fulfilled men with not an A level or university qualification between them.
As I watch our Sixth Formers head off to all sorts of bright futures at universities around the country and the world, I can't help but think how different, in many ways, their experience will be from that of my friends.
But in one significant way, it will be the same: the future will happen to them, whether they like it or not, and they will have to decide how to respond to it. I hope they will do so with the same zest and drive that Colin and Steve exhibit and I hope that we all take inspiration from the rich and diverse career and educational paths that can bring professional and personal fulfilment.
Rod MacKinnon is headmaster of Bristol Grammar School