There are far better mountain climbers than me, but over the summer, whilst in the Lake District, as a family we scaled Helvellyn and Skiddaw. Many teachers have compared preparation for exams with the task of climbing a mountain and I was reminded of this as I trudged, several steps behind the rest of the group, through the mist up the third and sixth highest peaks in England.

Like the mountaineer, exam candidates have a clear objective as regards the results that they want to achieve; they need to prepare how and when they will revise; they may well encounter some pain and frustration along the way and might need to call on others for some help but ultimately, if they keep going in the right direction, they will summit their mountain, achieve the results they deserve and feel that huge sense of personal achievement.

Sadly, the exam candidates of 2020 lost the opportunity to climb their GCSE and A level mountains when, in late March, the Government took the decision to cancel public examinations. Schools were asked to generate Centre Assessed Grades (CAGs), their very best and thoughtful estimates of what students would have achieved in each subject had they sat their exams in June in the normal way and the plan was that those grades would all be moderated. In the event, candidates were awarded the higher of their CAGs and the moderated grades and most Chigwell students were very pleased with the outcome. These two year groups of hardworking and able young people were awarded some very impressive grades: at A level, 25% of grades were A*, 59% of grades were at least an A and 35% of students achieved at least three A grades; meanwhile at GCSE 30% of all grades were a 9; 83% of all grades were at least a 7 (the old A grade), and almost a quarter of candidates had all grade 8s and 9s.

But in the midst of all this success, something was missing: despite working so hard for so long, 2020 candidates did not get to sit in the sports hall and answer their exam papers themselves; to feel the nerves beforehand and the relief afterwards; they didn’t get to summit their mountains. That was, of course, no fault of theirs, nor should it diminish their achievements at a time when they coped admirably with working in a different way because of the pandemic. Going forwards, there will be plenty more opportunities for them to be tested and, having struggled a bit themselves along the way, to feel a real sense of achievement. After-all, those who endure the climb up the mountain are best placed to enjoy the view from the top.

Mr Michael Punt M.A. M.Sc. P.G.C.E.