Thursday 13 August 2020
It is A level results day. I haven’t slept. I am up at six. Pacing the house. Hoovering for no reason. Depositing half-drunk cups of coffee in several rooms. By the time my eldest disappears to her room, to view the 8 am grades, I am on the edge of bursting into tears. Everything goes very, very quiet …until,
“Mum, can you come here please?”
And then I do cry. My girl has the grades she needs. After four years of unbelievable slog, barriers and hurdles one of my children is off to Medical School. It is so fantastic. It is almost impossible to take in.
2020 will be marked in educational annals as the Covid exam year; when exams were cancelled and pupils were given calculated grades. It has caused a national uproar, centred on the disparity between the standardisation of state and private school results. I expect the chapters of this year’s grade awards still have further pages to turn. But as the story of our marathon to Medical School reaches its end, I can say with some surety that if you want to experience first-hand the battle to break into an elite circle from the outside and even just to be allowed your entitlement to ambition, tell the world that you want to become a doctor!
Even though it has been daunting, and at times demoralising, I don’t want to put anyone off. I would do it all again in a breath. For this single mum, even without the final outcome, the whole experience has been an unforgettable rite of passage. Transporting me from life as a parent of a child, to becoming a parent of an amazing young adult, unique person and great friend. We have shared so much, and this includes laughter and fun as well as the tears and moments of despair. I have learned far more from my inspirational girl than I might ever hope to have taught her. It really has been some of the best of times…
Re-living the Journey – just for the record!
Mid way through Year 10, my eldest took herself to an event for ‘Young Doctors‘ at Manchester Uni. She skipped back through the door, waving a sutured banana, utterly sold on the idea of a career in medicine. By the December of Year 11, her drive and determination were beginning to take my breath away. I offered to test her for mocks and instead ended up being educated by her, on the wonders of Biology and Chemistry. She clearly was the real deal and I started to tell others of her plans. My niece was super excited and bombarded us with helpful sites and advice. Everyone else, clearly thought we were deluded,
“Medicine! Isn’t that incredibly difficult?”
“Don’t you need really high grades?“
“That’s so hard to get into! Can she really stand out?”
The message seemed clear; that Medical school was ‘not for people like us‘. And to my shame, as I confess in my first ever blog post, I retreated into this world of self doubt. Fortunately, teachers, teachers at a local comprehensive school, did not. They recognised the talents and efforts of my unstoppable girl, and rewarded her with praise, encouragement and a ‘smash the glass-ceiling‘ attitude. In August 2018, she collected a stellar set of GCSE results, moved onto sixth form college and joined the ‘Medical Group’.
Work experience and volunteering
The group told us of the hoops we has to jump through in terms of volunteering and work experience. When it came to finding a way through them however, we were on our own. My daughter hit the phones and found herself a volunteering post at a local care home. But clinical ‘work experience ‘…
I set out with a naive belief in the existence of a ‘system’ to support us. We applied to countless hospital trusts and council care home. Some rejected us. Others ignored us. Many said ‘no‘ to any clinical care or patient contact. It was dead end after dead end.
Now I believe in a comprehensive system. I work in the school comprehensive system. But I don’t believe any such a system exists for medical school applicants. And if the system fails, like any mum I am going to fight for my child. In January 2019, in a growing panic about work experience, I abandoned official channels and fell upon the mercy of a doctor friend. How fantastic was this friend? I honestly cannot do them justice in words. They sorted out a placement. They provided great work experience. And they did something even more valuable than that; they invested time, care and interest. They were there, long after the work experience week, to meet up, talk through and help understand what being a doctor meant; why being a doctor was so important.
In the meantime, my daughter moved onto the UKCAT.
Despite a national shortage of doctors, great GCSEs, high A Level predictions, work experience and a year of volunteering are not enough for our UK medical courses. Oh no! You also have to take a medical aptitude test, prior to University application. For us it was the UKCAT.
My eldest, prepped for it herself with a bank of online questions. She ground through practice papers on our holiday in Spain, upon our return, at her dad’s … essentially in any space she could find. The tests were gruesomely tough. But so is my girl! She fought through to emerge with flying colours. Ranked in the top 3% of entrants, she was now free to apply to the UKCAT University of her choice. Her personal statement penned, we crossed our fingers and waited for an interview.
Without doubt, for us this was the worst experience. Scheduled in December, the exhausted end of term weeks and always an overnight stay away, they proved a mammoth ordeal. It was to our genuine amazement that, four gruelling interview ordeals later, surviving sets of 5 or 7 stations of: group tasks, role play, ethical discussions, communication challenges and an interrogation of her personal qualities she finally got 3 offers.
Which just left the small matter of some pretty high A level grades …
A Levels 2020
We could actually see the finishing line. February mocks went really well. Parents Evening was a dream. Revision schedules were on the wall. Exam dates were on the calendar. But who could have foreseen the curve ball of all curveballs that was heading our way? Covid 19!
Schools closed, exams cancelled. Teachers to predict and rank. Awarding bodies to churn it all through statistical machinations. And a generation of Year 13 students, exiled to wait 5 long months, now powerless to influence the outcome, to learn their fate…
We were back in the hands of teachers and have them to thank for their assessments, tracking and judgements. For their trust in a talent nurtured by interest, hard work and sheer grit. A level grades emerged from the calculations, not quite as high as predicted, but more than enough.
At last, the next stage beckons …