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A testing anniversary

Updated: Sep 9, 2020

Some of you will know that this week sees our wedding anniversary, and I am so very touched that so many of you have sent us messages and good wishes. Thank you from us both! 

There is also another anniversary for me - the anniversary of my 'U'. It is 36 years since I got my 'O'-level results (for younger members reading this, 'O'-levels were a little like your GCSEs). My results were not distinguished; A (music), 4 Bs, 3Cs, E - and a U. The U was for physics, and anyone who has ever watched me attempt to wire a plug will understand all. Even so, it's not a result worthy of boasting. The truth is that life was very difficult at home in those days and, as the lone carer for my critically ill mother, I had to choose what to revise, history or physics, both of which examinations were the next day. I chose history (one of the Bs). I slept - literally - through my physics exam, having been up all night. Perhaps the U should have been ZZZ.

But at least I was present. Last week, too many young people found themselves awarded a U for A-levels at which a much higher grade was predicted, when taking the actual exam was not possible. And now they learn that the algorithms are to be abandoned in favour of grade assessment by teachers. This is undoubtedly hugely welcome - at the time of writing (Monday evening) it is unclear what this will mean for those who have already been offered university places, and those to whom they have been denied. On August 16th the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge published a typically compassionate and meaningful statement - but even he does not possess the superpowers needed to remove a pandemic, change our politics, and magic a thousand extra places out of a hat.

Last week I spent time with an admissions tutor from one college (not Lucy or Trinity, in case you're wondering) who was practically in tears having spent days doing all they could to admit as many hopeful young people as possible, and was bereft at not being able to do more. There was no self-pity, only concern for those they felt had been let down.

I have faced many tests in my life, not least of the academic variety. But many others - tests of the kind where God becomes hard to believe in; where faith in humanity is crushed; where relationships are bust, hopes are shredded, and my own sinfulness is almost too much to bear. Some reading this - perhaps most - will know what I mean.

But in spite of all these, that 'U' still haunts me. Such tests - and their outcomes - leave scars.

The Government volte-face is a welcome one. But it comes after days of untold stress for hundreds of thousands of young people, parents, and professionals. Our young people deserve better than they have received this summer. We, who worship the One who brings life in all its fulness, are called to pray for them. A University Church, surely, has this vocation: not only to pray for our students, but to welcome them, and to work for them (and those who will support them) in the years ahead.

The Reverend Canon Adrian Daffern

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