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Pupil at top Camden school refuses to open GCSEs because ‘obsession with grades is damaging’

PUBLISHED: 10:10 01 September 2016 | UPDATED: 10:10 01 September 2016

Hannah Morris

Hannah Morris

Archant

Teenagers around the country anxiously tore open their GCSE results last week – but one Camden schoolgirl is refusing to even glance at hers because she believes society’s obsession with grades is damaging.

Hannah MorrisHannah Morris

Former youth MP Hannah Morris, a pupil at the renowned Camden School for Girls in Sandall Road, did not go in to collect her results alongside her peers last Thursday.

And this is not because she fears she has done badly, as Hannah is expected to have done well in her eleven subjects, and intends to remain at the high-performing state school to study four A levels.

Her astonishing display of willpower comes because she believes the pressure to obtain top grades in a results-driven system has gone too far, and is harming young people’s self-esteem and mental health.

Hannah, 16, who was the borough’s youth MP for two years until April, said: “I was getting quite stressed out in the build-up to the exams and wasn’t having huge faith in myself.

Hannah MorrisHannah Morris

“So I decided before I even took them that I wasn’t going to look (at the results) and it relieved so much pressure.”

Hannah, who lives in Gospel Oak, added: “I hate the comparison to other people, and I’d prefer to simply believe in myself that I did my best, without needing a grade to prove it.”

The school is aware of Hannah’s results, and will confirm her place in its sixth form based on her grades – but the teenager insists she still won’t want to know how she did when she begins her A levels.

She said: “I didn’t tell the school that’s what I decided to do. I just didn’t turn up for results’ day. My friend collected them for me.

“But my mum had a quick look at my results, just to make sure I’d done enough to get into sixth form, so I presume I have.

“My parents were surprised when I told them, but then they were very supportive.

“Some of my friends think I’m mad. And some people think I’m being cocky – like I’m so confident I’ve done well that I don’t need to look. But that’s not it at all.

“But some of my friends understand why I’m doing it because they hate the pressure too. I hate the fact that a grade is deemed to determine your intelligence when really it’s just memorising stuff.”

Hannah said she has no regrets about missing out on the drama of results day at her high-achieving school.

She said: “I heard there were people in floods of tears because their astonishingly high grades didn’t meet their expectations – like they got an A instead of an A* or a B instead of an A.

“That’s what happens when you measure people’s worth in grades, which is what our system does.

“Everyone has been sharing their grades on social media, so people are definitely defining themselves by grades.”

But while Hannah may resist knowing for the time being, she will have to fill out her grades if she applies for university next year, along with her predicted A level results.

“I’ll have to put them on my UCAS form, so I will have a quick look at them then – but by that time, they won’t seem so important.”

Hannah said she cannot understand why GCSEs are considered so vital when young people are no longer allowed to leave school at 16.

“GCSEs are just about getting you to A levels, or to a vocational course. In themselves, they’re not worth much, so I think we should scrap them.”

The politically active teenager has spent much of the past two years fighting against swingeing cuts to youth services proposed by Camden Council – with some success, as initial plans were modified.

During her time as youth MP, Hannah worked with many young people from deprived and challenging backgrounds – which she says is another reason to be wary of exam results.

“While in high achieving schools, people are crying and feeling like failures because they got a B, for some people, it’s an achievement just to get a grade at all. But the system doesn’t recognise that.”

And Hannah became aware of increasing reports of mental health problems among young people while representing them.

She said: “There are all kinds of pressures on young people these days – and exam stress is definitely contributing towards low self-esteem and perfectionism in some people.”

Camden School for Girls is rated “outstanding” by OFSTED and has many famous former pupils – including actresses Emma Thompson and Tamsin Greig and Spice Girl Geri Halliwell.

Hannah said she holds the government partly responsible for the focus on grades: “I think because funding for schools has been cut, there’s a lot of pressure on schools to perform well to get funding.

“And teachers put grades first, so they might accidentally overlook mental health problems in kids.”

Hannah returned to school yesterday to begin A levels in Maths, Further Maths, Geography and English, still unaware of her grades.

Camden School for Girls has not yet responded to our request for comment.

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