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Supposed Success and Failure

Fifteen-year-old Aimee Collins, a state school student from Somerset, wrote this brilliant speech for the Whole Education conference last month. She has given us permission to share it on Rescue Our Schools.

Someone once said to me…”You need to fail in order to succeed”. Now I don’t think this statement is really believed among young people. Speaking from a child’s point of view, no one truly believes that it is okay to make mistakes. When really, making mistakes is how our lives were formed. Evolution happened by the world making millions of tiny mistakes that eventually formed into a species. So, yes, mistakes happen, yes, it’s okay, and yes, it’s normal. So, don’t be afraid to make those mistakes and learn from them too, because in the end that’s just how the world works. Even though, they may affect your future, it’s still okay. It won’t completely ruin your life and it probably won’t stop the people around you from loving you, of course depending on the mistake, but school wise I think you’ll be okay. 

I always believed that success and failure was portrayed wrongly in schools. In order to ‘succeed’ you have to win, that’s what we get told. We are driven from when we are about the age of 4, that success means becoming a doctor or a lawyer and that having a job like a zoo keeper is interpreted as being unsuccessful. Most schools don’t bring out the engineer in someone, the plumber, the craftsman because teachers have to follow set curriculum that every student learns so that every student has the same paths to follow and the same paths to pick from. When really the world wouldn’t be able to function without people such as cleaners, bus drivers, cashiers and factory workers. So, if you ever become a garbage man don’t think you have failed at life, think, “What would the world do without me?” And you’ll see that it just really wouldn’t run the same.

Success in schools` supposedly means passing a test with high grades. Getting a 9 in your GCSEs is what you should be aiming for, supposedly. Exams can be good but they aren’t everything and they shouldn’t be. But at the moment unfortunately: they are. I heard on the radio the other day that the school administration board was thinking about introducing harder assessments, because too many students achieved high grades. Why are they punishing students for getting high grades, when really they should be praising them? Maybe students are getting good results because their teachers are so good at their jobs, not because the GCSEs are too easy. The exam board complains when results aren’t high enough, so they heighten the ability of teaching and then complain when it works. I honestly don’t understand what they really want, students to do well and thrive or students to struggle and well, fail.

I believe children should stop being pushed to believe all that matters in these next few years are exam results, because why do we even have exams if they can’t determine how empathetic a person is; how caring; how much they value others or respect others; how resilient they are, all of these things that many jobs would want but don’t even look for when hiring. Jobs such as a therapist need people who are understanding and supportive as well as, yes, needing to know how to deal with different situations, which would probably be taught. Or by being a doctor, you need good social skills, but also need to be able to pass a test to say that you know what you are doing as lives are in your hands. Therefore, I’m not saying all tests are bad I’m just saying that schools are sucking the creativity out of children.

I was told the other day it was a privilege that I could choose art, drama, music or DT as a subject to take at GCSE. Why was that ever made a privilege? I’m sorry, but I think it is just ridiculous that you have to have permission to be creative or even have the opportunity to express yourself in school. Isn’t that what being a youngster is for? What has our society turned into if a person cannot even voice their own opinions? 

Exams are overdone because they don’t bring out the hidden skills in children, those desires, those thriving passions just waiting to emerge, because all they are doing is remembering what’s on a sheet of paper. In my tutor time when we were seeing what our best way to learn is, I figured out it wasn’t a way of learning, it was a way of remembering things for a short amount of time, so that you can pass an exam and get to the college, sixth form or the apprenticeship you desire. However, if you talk to any adult of today, I bet you they can barely remember half of their school life and the bits they can remember, are when they rebelled against a teacher or really exceeded at something or just the friends they made. Barely any of them will remember the information they learnt for their GCSEs (or O’Levels as they were called), because half the time, they’re never going to use it again.  

Another thing wrong with the education system, is that doesn’t teach social skills, growing up or individuality anymore. It teaches how to be the same, how to be smart and how to be ‘successful’. When really what you want it to teach, is to let children grow into themselves; to be able to engage with the others around them and just learn who they are; what they are good at, so they can go out into the world and become an architect, a teacher, a journalist, a lawyer or even a world class athlete. 

Children should have the freedom to explore life and there should never be a limit to a person’s learning or what they can achieve. So if you read or hear this speech, please do me one favour. Stop telling people that to ‘succeed’ in life they have to take a certain path, do certain things or be a certain person, because to ‘succeed’ you just need to be you. Also, don’t let people tell you that succeeding is having a specific job or role in life, succeeding is whatever you want it to be, from learning to drive to achieving your dream (whatever that may be). 

So like Harvey Fierstein said ‘Accept no one’s definition of your life; define yourself.’ So, learn from life, live it and move on.

Thank you 

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