Exam Results 76

A piece of paper does not encapsulate a person’s worth. University is one good way of enhancing your understanding and experience of this wonderful world, but there are many other ways.

I was very unhappy with the discipline and structure of school and did very badly – my A Levels were BEE. I lost my place to do law and scraped into Dundee on clearing to study History. In the free atmosphere of university I flourished and ended up with a First, as well as twice being President of the students union (and eventually became Rector of the university). My parents and friends were very upset the day my A Level results came out but I knew, even then, there were much more important things in life. I know it still more now.

Study what you enjoy, not what you think might pay. The economic world is changing so fast there are few safe bets anyway. But you are a wonderful, complex being, not just an economic agent. Experience life wherever it takes you. Everybody deserves love, and with patience you will find some. Nobody’s worth depends on bits of paper of any kind.

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76 thoughts on “Exam Results

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  • Suhayl Saadi

    “Study what you enjoy, not what you think might pay.” Craig Murray.
    I wish I’d known that at the age of 16. Still, fate works in mysterious ways, sometimes. The wrong decision comes to be the right decision in different ways. Pebbles in the void is what we are.
    But who am I, for I know nothing.

  • craig Post author


    Picking up from a discussin you were having on another thread, Alexander Burnes policy recommendation was that Dost Mohammed should be supported (becoming more or less a client) and that on the death of Runjit Singh most of the Muslim lands conquered by him – including Kashmir and Peshawar – should be returned by the British to Muslim rule under Dost Mohammed.

    The whole story of India (and Pakistan) could have been so very different if this policy had been followed, rather than the annexation of the Sikh conquered lands by the British.

  • Debbie

    I was just catching up on my reading, and read You Can’t Unemploy Me Any Longer

    I have been out of the workforce for years now. I had hoped to have published by now. That didn’t happen. Life had other ideas. Over fifteen years ago, our first child was born with severe cerebral palsy. And now I am writing about that. Not the historical novel set in 11th Century Fustat I had envisioned. I am on a different kind of journey.

    I have read you on and off for years, and I always enjoy these departures. I hope that the educator friends of mine on Twitter will come by and also read this post.

  • kathz

    This is an important post. School and university are both narrow worlds. Each can be very good for some people and doesn’t suit others. The whole world is much bigger and people are worth more than paper certificates.

  • Martin Budden

    I’ve always liked the advice given by Commander Benjamin Sisko to his son Jake:

    “It’s your life, Jake, you have to choose your own way. There is only one thing I want from you: find something you love, then do it the best you can.”

  • Azra

    Not at all what Paul Coelho parent’s believed! but at the end if one is passionate, one will overcome the obstacles and succeed. Even being banged up in mental assylum by his parents (who believed they were saving him!) did not deter him to follow what he wanted to be and not what they thought is best for him and now he is one of the best writers (and wise one!).
    I think world is a richer place because of him and those like him.

  • Huw

    I got three As – in today’s currency, probably three A*s – and a scholarship to Oxford. Today, I would gladly change places with Craig!

  • Jack

    The problem with paper qualifications is that they suffer from inflation, the same way as money.

    When I left school 50 years ago at age 16, my 6 O-Levels were good for a whole range of public-service careers. A-Levels? University? I might as well have wished to fly to the Moon – my father packed me off to work (justifiably – we desperately needed the income and I’d already been at school 2 years longer than he had). I spent the next 15 years obtaining degree-level qualifications part-time.

    Within a decade, the jobs that I was doing by then demanded A-Levels. Those doing the job were not perceivably better for the extra pieces of paper. Another decade, and the same jobs were now open only to graduates. But not only did performance levels fail to rise – as often as not they fell. Partly because so many jobs which had attracted the best of the O- and A-level streams now attracted the bottom of the graduate output. And partly because of what I can only call social dyslexia, which thrust young people into social and public relations situations their extended education simply hadn’t equipped them to deal with.

    This wasn’t/isn’t a rule of course – and I had no qualms about living, with my wife, on beans and toast for years to allow my two sons to graduate. But I still have a strong distaste for the paper qualification culture, if only because it’s so beloved of ‘human resource’ (spit!) people, few of whom have any taste these days for – as I did for years – personally evaluating applicants and taking responsibility for their appointment. One of my ex-employers even uses software these days to filter applicants – I’ve never heard anything more obscene.

  • Canspeccy

    Glad to see you seem to have come around to the view that, for most people, a university education is not worth the 53,000 quid or whatever it is that it costs — whether the cost is paid by the state or the individual.

  • John Goss

    “Experience life wherever it takes you.”

    Never a truer word spoken. As more of a plodder top-grade was not what I aspired to achieve. On the running-track, cricket pitch, football field, it was the same. I could see there were better, fitter, more accomplished beings and I knew if I trained and pushed myself to the absolute limit, I could never equal, let alone surpass, what they seemed to do effortlessly. Everyone finds a niche.

    When I was 55 I cycled through twelve countries carrying a tent and computer as well as day-to-day necessities. The greatest teachers in the world cannot foresee what lessons might be learnt on a trip of that kind. Turkey alone is more than a thousand miles from Bulgaria to Georgia. In Georgia there is a tunnel through the Caucasus’ range, but I had to cycle to the summit clocking up two broken spokes with no bike-shop till Tbilisi. Academic achievement has its place but experience, and survival practices, cannot be bought.

  • wendy

    “Everybody deserves love, and with patience you will find some”
    thank you for this. a reminder, more than that, an echo and a tear for a lost love – due to cancer .

  • Alex

    I am from Russia, but sorry guys, the level of education in English primary and secondary schools is rubbish. My two cousins live and study here, they are 8 and 10 years old. I have never seen them having the reading books on any subject. they get homeworks only once a week. Back in Russia from age 6 children have reading and exercise books on math, reading, grammar, etc. which they take home and prepare home work everyday. My sister is struggling to work extra hours with my cousins so that they can catch up with the same age children in Russia. Unfortunately, they can not move back to Russia, I am so worried about education of my cousins.

  • Suhayl Saadi

    John, your have just written ‘Zen and the Art of Bicycling Maintenance’! Turkey is indeed a very long country. Your journey sounds utterly transfiguring. You ought to write about it in some way.
    Craig, that’s absolutely fascinating about Dost Mohamammed, I didn’t know that. Yes, the British could have stopped at the Sindh (Indus) and cultivated a ‘restored’ Afghanistan whose eastern border would have reached to the opposite bank of the Indus – a far more natural border in terms of terrain and peoples – as a client state or at least as a non-aggressive state b/w the British and Russian Empires. History would indeed have been very different.

    Of course, as you’ll know, successive Afghan governments have coveted the lands of the NWFP (now Pakhtunwala) and always have regarded the Durand Line as a arbitrary and illegal frontier drawn through their lands by the British (a certain Mr Durand). Successive Pakistan Govts, naturally, have disagreed. Another reason why successive Afghan regimes (except the Taliban one) have been seen as natural allies of India. And so it goes on, and on…

    Here’s an interesting blog, with some fascinating pics. Public memory in relation to Afghanistan is very short.

  • Courtenay Barnett

    Funny how life goes and takes you in a direction. My dad was a poor boy who made financial good for himself and wanted his son to be a lawyer ( because that is what he would have been if he had the opportunity). Started taking me to hear court cases at age 9. After 11 plus in the first form – asked what I wanted to be – I said a lawyer. Aimed that way into university and did precisely that. Do I like what I do? What else can I do – which honest profession would otherwise have me?


  • John K

    You say “Study what you enjoy, not what you think might pay”.
    Agreed, but with this caveat.
    If you do want to go to University, and have a fair idea what you might want to study, don’t let teachers and schools push you into studying so-called easy subjects to get better grades.
    Insist on taking the subjects that you judge will be useful for (and will probably help you get a place on) the course or courses you are interested in. These re probably the ones you want to study anyway. Then apply yourself dilligently to them, but not so dilligently you don’t have a life outside school.
    Way back when I had to badger my school to let me read maths as well as arts subjects at A level. I have never regretted this, as maths and statistics proved essential in my career.

  • Andy P

    “Study what you enjoy, not what you think might pay.”

    Wise words.

    I got those two the wrong way round – big mistake. Got my degree in a subject that prepared me for a career in a profession I had no interest in by the time I’d finished and never pursued.

  • JimmyGiro

    “A piece of paper does not encapsulate a person’s worth.”
    Yet you dismissed the ‘value’ of IQ testing in a previous post; even though such tests are fairly consistent, and give a better measure of somebodies intellectual efficiency.
    IQ tests are a damn sight cheaper than A-Levels, and if properly implemented, will be a better predictor of a persons capabilities in jobs and degrees requiring thinking tasks.
    Of course, the IQ test is pooh-poohed by the left because it measures the difference between people; which is an anathema to those who want to dictate to the ‘masses’. And the poor old A-level was neutered to achieve the same synthetic levelling of ‘equality’.
    In order to stop the cream from rising, in a natural fashion, they ‘homogenised’ education, so that it is neither fish nor fowl.
    A piece of paper may not be all a person is worth, but if it scores from a truly challenging test, then it would give the barer more self-esteem, than a National Insurance Number, issued by a Marxist-Feminist bureaucracy, that defines what you are worth according to quota.

  • Canspeccy

    Alex said: “education in English primary and secondary schools is rubbish … in Russia from age 6 children have reading and exercise books on math, reading, grammar, etc.”
    The thing is, Alex, Russia is a nation intent on surviving indefinitely. England is a carcass, of which the bones are being picked by the financial, political and bureaucratic elites. Russia has a chance of survival. Britain is finished. So why would you expect the bureaucratic education system to be anything but crap.
    Sure a country called Britain will continue to exist, but the British nation, which the bureaucratic elite have dictated does not exist, will certainly not exist in the future. It will be replaced by the immigrants who already account for more than half the population in some urban areas. Once they have the majority they crave they will change the system.

  • Canspeccy

    A good brain is a useful thing to have, but if you never learned to do the differential calculus, or how to spell, you remain at a disadvantage in many circumstances to someone properly educated.
    What is astounding is that with a dozen years of compulsory state education, there are millions of Brits with a reading capability no better than that of a properly educated seven-year-old.
    What’s needed is to get rid of the swindling bureaucrats who run the educational system.

  • Clark

    “..you are a wonderful, complex being, not just an economic agent.”
    Well said, Craig. I thoroughly enjoyed university, not for the education but for the social life and all the activities. I made friends there that I still have now. Canspeccy may say that university is wasted on the majority, but in my opinion the education is the least important part. Everyone should have access to something like the social side of university throughout their lives. Who would be out smashing windows and looting tellys if they had such opportunities? Human creativity and endeavour are supremely valuable in their own right. It is hugely sad that in our modern, market dominated society, almost all activity has to be justified by making a profit.

  • Paul Johnston

    Sorry don’t have any A-Levels, left school at 16 to go to work, went to University at 25. That was 20 years ago and I remember thinking what a waste it was all the people doing for a degree, what they were good at, rather than what they actually wanted to do. One thing though Craig, bet if you got a Desmond you would never have ended up “Our Man In Tashkent”. ‘Nobody’s worth depends on bits of paper of any kind.’ but generally the amount of money you get at the end of the month depends upon what people will pay you and I’ll bet anything people with a first on average get paid more than a 2:2 😉

  • Suhayl Saadi

    Well, whatever else was wrong with them (and there was much), Eastern Bloc countries had (and as Alex points out, their successors may well continue to have) good education. The ex-Eastern Bloc countries, at least Russia, according to Alex, have a good standard of education. There was, and is, variation – we are talking a huge area and many countries – but the problems they are having, by and large, are not due to poor education. Now it strikes me as illogical to argue that ‘Marxism-Leninism’ has caused education to be poor in the UK but that a much more rigorous application of Stalinist Marxism-Leninism did not have the same deleterious effect on education in the once Eastern Bloc (or in China, etc.). So, perhaps there are other explanations for the fall in standards in education in the UK – and I do very much agree that standards have fallen, across the board in the UK.

  • Azra

    @Courtenay, what other profession?? you can be an entrepreneur .remember the bumper sticker 🙂

    Mary, still no news on BBC website..

  • Paul

    Damn right. I struggled and stumbled with the rigours of an English degree before jacking it in in disgust. I’d hoped to become a teacher, but I’m not an academic. My brain just doesn’t work that way.

    I became a teacher anyway. I now teach people to drive for a living. The money is shit, particularly if you’re expecting anything like you see in the adverts, and you get buggered about constantly by your clients, but I love the job. Alienated, I ain’t!

  • Povre Scoler

    I received three As and enrolled to study law at my local university. It was a terrible idea. Absolutely hated law and hated the types it attracted. The head of school asked all those who were there for the sake of money and not human rights to put there hands up. 99% of those present put there hands up for the first, and my lowly hand went up for the second. I was repulsed. I left to study literature and philosophy the following week – both very interesting subjects indeed, providing both latitude for critical thinking and space for open discussion. Yet, despite this fact I have niggles about my decision. Other people I know who enrolled to study law are able – by dint of the prestige that comes with studying ‘law’ (which I still don’t understand) – are able to poach good jobs. Despite coming out of university with a 1st at undergraduate and with a distinction at Masters, I cannot find employment. Friends of mine who also studied arts subjects are struggling and constantly depressed that they have to start at the very bottom of the business ladder – there simply aren’t many graduate jobs out there. I am ashamed to say that a part of me wishes I had completed my initial degree in law – just for the sake of getting in through the door of employment and for the sake of being treated with some bloody respect. Am I alone in my experiences?

  • Povre Scoler

    @ Huw

    But your clear advantage is that you went to Oxford. My brother in law also attended Oxford. He got a third. When applying for a job – to be a lecturer no less – he was worried about his degree. It must be said, he’s not the brightest tool in the box. He went for the interview and talked to some of the other candidates. Several of them had received firsts, and had good teacher training. They had a strong knowledge of their subject and even journal publications – which he did not. In spite of all this, my brother in law got the job. So there we have it. A third from Oxford equals a first in any other university. It must be the name that employer’s look for. They see Oxford and they think, wow, this guy – no matter how he performs at interview or in academic terms – MUST be brilliant. Quite simply, I didn’t have the confidence to apply to Oxford; and did come from a family with a university background. The thought of applying alone was intimidating…

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