Rites of Passage: “Mum I’m quite surprised because I got School C!”

Once upon a time, in Fifth Form (Year 11), I took some subjects at school.

I was asked to know my exact career path at age 15, and being from a fairly middle-class and therefore fortunate family, I simply answered with the first thing that came into my head:

Um I’ll take florist please.

With that over and done with I just randomly checked some boxes and ended up in French and Geography thinking they sounded nice.

The qualification was then School Certificate. I remember it being content-driven, meaning I’d be “taught” by my “teacher”. My teacher would do all of the talking, and would stand in front of the blackboard and draw diagrams with chalk.  We’d write down the content in our 1B5 hardcover books.

My geography teacher warned us about our exams from the minute we started class on the first day. We got used to hearing helpful reminders such as:

You think exams are in November, well they’re closer than you think

Oh, how we laughed at this nonsense, and went back to writing notes to our friends and planning what colour taffeta we’d wear for next year’s ball.

Suddenly it was term four and we’d done no work all year nor any study. My florist career was already in tatters and there were no Coles Notes for Geography or French.

There was only one thing for it, and that was to make it all up and hope for the best.

The English exam went ok. On the morning I packed a pretty tight plastic bag with things like protractors and a compass to make myself look more scholarly.

All of my transactional pieces ended with “Thank goodness it was all a dream”, because they were rubbish stories.  Possibly what got me through this exam was the helpful anecdote about Tennessee Williams’ sister being the first person in America to have a frontal lobotomy, the only thing I could remember about A Streetcar Named Desire.

French was tough. We were made to listen to some cassette tapes of scenarios. For example, Thierry getting told off by his mother.  I managed to work out that the whole family were going to the pool though, and that felt good.

On to Mathematics. Not my strength by any stretch but still the compass and protractor finally came into their own.

Geography was easy. I can still describe to you what orographic rain is, and that Auckland is an isthmus, and write a creative paragraph about California’s varied land forms and weather.

Science was ok, apart from the chemistry and physics parts, and by then, it was nearly holiday time and I no longer cared about my future.

In January the results came in. To my surprise, I had passed everything except French, only because everything was scaled up. Because of scaling, so that the education system could attain its all-important “bell curve”, three of my grades were in the late sixties. I passed mathematics. What a shitty cohort we must have been.

The following year, we were thrown into the first experimental year of Sixth Form Certificate and I spent a year mounting things onto thick cardboard for no good reason, and staring into the educational abyss, and wondering if I’d wear leg-of-mutton sleeves with my backless dress, and whether my date would be shorter than me because of the heels.




  1. I wrote my name on my Geography paper, waited the allotted half hour then left and got 36% for my effort….scaling was at its all time high….

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