Education & Family

Leaping blondes? It must be A-level results day

Image copyright PA
Image caption Head over heels: The A-level results day photograph

1. Weird jumping

In what other circumstances do people jump like on A-level results day? Not just any jumping, but a curious salmon leap, holding a bit of paper? If you told someone something and they reacted by suddenly leaping upwards you'd probably be concerned for their well-being. It seems a reaction unique to good news about exams, fortuitously captured by the photographers on hand to record the moment.

2. Blonde ambition

Future generations, looking at traditional A-level results day pictures, could be forgiven for thinking that the only people ever to receive excellent exam results were blonde girls. Their academic prowess is illustrated by cheerleader-style line-ups, brandishing what look suspiciously like blank pieces of A4 paper. And a surprising number of these pictures seem to be in schools that have their own ornamental gardens.

3. Triplets with more As than a Finnish dictionary

There is some irresistible and largely inexplicable fascination with triplets and quadruplets getting their exam results. Children from exactly the same background getting the same A-level grades? How extraordinary. Better call a photographer and get them to jump in the air.

4. Screaming into a mobile phone

It's become a modern visual shorthand for Something Really Important to Tell You. Whether it's getting through to the next round on X Factor or in this case getting exam results, there is always an obligatory scene showing someone hyperventilating into the phone. It's emotional. It's a family moment. But that shrieking is shattering windows a mile away.

Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption On results day, people scream rather than talk into mobiles

5. Opening the envelope

This Oscars-style reveal must be one of the rare occasions when teenagers experience this old-tech process called "opening an envelope". It's a long way from instant messaging and mobile phone apps. But this is one of the key scenes in the A-level results day. All those years of work, all those ambitions, it's a poignant moment looking to see what's inside.

6. Against all the odds

A hardy perennial of results day is the heart-warming story of an A-level student who has triumphed against adversity. They have achieved remarkable things against overwhelming odds. No results day is complete without an inspiring tale of stoically overcoming hardship. Unless of course their story gets bumped by a picture of a junior soap star picking up their A-levels. And jumping.

7. Precocious, moi?

Only 11 years old and they're celebrating a dozen A* grades? They might be dressed like a middle-aged professor, but these rocket-fuelled youngsters are hitting the top grades when the rest of their year group are still spending the holidays playing Minecraft. These prodigies, who might leave us feeling uneasy as well as impressed, are a compulsory fixture of the A-level results coverage.

8. Exams were harder in my day

Of course there are many parents who would see nothing controversial in such a suggestion - and every year someone starts an argument by saying something similar. The phrase "grade inflation" used to hang over the annual results day like decorations at Christmas.

But it's no longer such an easy charge, as results which rose every year for several decades have stopped rising and even headed into a gentle decline. But it remains the case that in the 1980s fewer than one in 10 students would have expected to get an A grade, while for today's students more than one in four will get an A* or A grade.

Image caption Open University: Ties were wider, the academic path was narrower

9. 'Not everyone has to go to university'

A-level results have become inseparably linked to finding out whether young people get the grades needed for university. It's almost as if they are seen as a two-year entrance exam. But this really irritates people who want young people to consider vocational study - and every year there will be someone pointing out that Sir Richard Branson didn't go to university and it didn't do him any harm.

It's also overlooked that there are many people who go into higher education without any A-levels at all, but who get their places with vocational qualifications.

10. 'It's not the end of the world'

Whatever advice a parent gives to a teenager is always going to be wrong - they're going to be irritated whatever you say. And every results day sees an abundance of experts reminding young people that there are lots of options, even if the grades are going to make Plan A difficult. But at all costs, even if you're thinking it, never ever utter the words: "It's not the end of the world."

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