Rev Dr Tess Kuin Lawton, chaplain and teacher at Magdalen College School, puts exam results in perspective


In some ways it feels contrived to try and write about exams and exam results from a theological perspective. And yet, as Christians, we try to understand our whole life in the context and framework of the one who made us.

Over the years that I have been chaplain at MCS, I have had conversations with Christian boys who have been told by their church that schoolwork and exams are not important because only God is important.

Of course in a school like Magdalen, where we take pride in helping pupils reach their full potential, the thought that God is not interested in exam results comes as a bit of a blow.

“The glory of God is a human being fully alive,” wrote St Irenaeus in the third century. Each one of us has been given a brain and one of the reasons we attend school is to develop and stretch our brains as we set about discovering the world about us and learning what makes us tick.

My eldest child is also waiting for her GCSE results on Thursday. Exams are hard work and I know first hand that many students question their usefulness as a way of testing what they know.

But, from the other side of the desk, as their teacher, I can say without equivocation that it is in the arduous process of revision for all those subjects, altogether, that pupils begin to reach their full potential. As they work and strive, the pieces of the jigsaw begin to fall into place and they make connections and see their work in 3D.

Too often, teenagers get bad press for hanging around on street corners or being obsessed with social media and computer games.

But this GCSE period is a refiners fire. As teachers, we all notice it.

It is a real-life challenge that every year 11 pupil across the country has to rise to and it marks their coming of age.

Students sigh every year at the media debate about whether exams are getting easier. Those of us in education know that they are not. The achievements of young men and women across the country today are deeply impressive and are certainly the result of their hard work and the care of their teachers.

The wait of the last fortnight becomes almost unbearable for such an ‘instant’ generation, but the waiting is part of the growing-up process.

Getting their results is a defining moment which they will never forget. Newspapers will splash pretty girls gasping in delight across their front pages and there will indeed be wonderful success stories to celebrate.

One of the reasons that Stephen Sutton attracted so many young followers on Facebook was because of his message about working for GCSE’s even when he had cancer. Think of those pupils in Leeds who swore that they would work even harder for their Spanish GCSE, after Mrs Ann Maguire was stabbed to death in front of them.

There will be success and there will also be some regrets. But that is what makes today a life-defining moment.

Exams are about the process and the results but most of all they are about the journey.

As Christians would say, the journey is what changes you, the journey is what helps you to discover exactly who it is you were meant to be.

The A level results last Thursday and the GCSE results this Thursday are just one step on that journey to a life of fulfilment and flourishing.