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When I was 17, I absolutely tanked my AS Level grades.

On the 18th of August 2016 (a date I will never be able to forget), my family was on holiday in Greece, and I left the poolside sunshine to trek back to the room, log into the public WiFi that was only strong enough for one user at a time, and waited hesitantly for my head of year to email through my grades.

My 17th year had not been especially kind to me, and my first year of sixth form had been hard to say the least. I don’t think I was expecting high-flying, Russel group grades, but I had at least expected to pass them.


My results came through, loading up on the screen like a horrifying game show reveal; D, D, E, U. My sister had followed me back to the room for moral support and looked at me expectantly as I stayed silent.

“So, what did you get?” She asked, shaking my arm.

“Nothing,” I couldn’t believe it, “I didn’t pass any of them.”

“No, seriously.” She rolled her eyes.

“No,” I said, “Seriously.”

The look on my face told her that I wasn’t joking, and she spent the next half an hour trying to coax me back out of the bathroom where I had locked myself to cry. I felt so disappointed, so humiliated and all of a sudden, I was worried about every plan I’d made for my future that was now in jeopardy.

These were the grades that universities would base their acceptance offers on, and I was sure that no one would want me with such a bad track record. Even though I liked my subjects, and I loved my teachers (most of them), I was terrified of going back to school and having to admit that I’d failed.

In preparation of my excellent results, my mum had booked us a table at a restaurant in Rhodes to celebrate and insisted that we should still go. I sat at the table feeling like a fraud, with a headache from crying, and the ‘elephant in the room’ sitting pride of place on the table. No one wanted to say anything, and I was too miserable to pretend not to be.

Then, my mum raised a glass to toast me. She said that I might not have gotten the grades I wanted, but it had been a really hard year, and if the least we were celebrating was that I had made it through and done my best, then that was still plenty to celebrate. My best was all that anyone could ask of me, and just because this was how I had done this time around, didn’t mean that it was all that I was ever capable of achieving.

I got an email from my head of year, relaying the same message. Second year was a fresh start, and I could try again.

So, come September, I decided to wear my bad grades like a badge (made a little easier by the fact that they spelt DUDE), and use them as motivation to do better. I set meetings with each of my teachers to discuss what had gone wrong and how I could do better.

When walking into the classroom for my first meeting with my History teacher, I was confused to see him sitting next to my English teacher. I had never known they were friends, and certainly enough not to be laughing with each other the way they were.

When I asked what was so funny, they both put my test papers on the desk in front of me. It turns out, on the day that I’d had my Dystopian English Literature test paper, and my British History test paper in the same afternoon, I had accidentally switched a few names over in my head.

Instead of discussing George Orwell’s 1984 protagonist ‘Winston Smith’, I had talked exclusively about ‘Winston Churchill’, and when discussing British wartime politics, I had talked in detail about the policies and decisions of ‘Winston Smith’, not ‘Winston Churchill’. My teachers found it hilarious, me less so. They suggested this had been a factor in some of those lost marks and told me as unfortunate as the mistake had been, it was at least a little bit funny.

So, I had confused Britian’s most famous prime minister with one of the most integral dystopian protagonists of the 20th century. It really couldn’t get worse from here.

When my teachers had finished laughing (but not finished poking fun, which lasted almost the entire year), they spent many afternoons sitting with me to figure out where I’d gotten lost, and how I could make my way back. I made revision a full-time job, and asked every question that came to my head, even if I’d asked it before, and booked in so many after school sessions with teachers that some told me they saw me more than their own children (sorry, guys).

I admitted that the way I’d been handling things the previous year, on my own, was not my best way forward and started to access some of the mental health support available to me. I spoke to friends and family and although nothing was an overnight fix, it already felt like less of a burden. I took advantage of the empty space in my brain and stuffed it full of knowledge about Samuel Taylor Coleridge poetry. To this day, I can give you a detailed timeline of his descent into opium addiction and how it made his poetry so weird.

By the time my A Levels rolled around, I was sure that whatever I got, even if I was destined to reclaim my DUDE status, I would have done my best and I was happy with that. I still had some doubts in the back of my mind, and where all of my other classmates were burning their revision and enjoying their summers, I kept all my books under my bed just in case I needed to resit any exams, and silently dreaded that August Thursday.

No amount of worrying would stop the time passing, and when the day finally came, my mum collected my results, and got into bed next to me to open them. She said whatever happened, she was proud of me, and I ripped open the envelope. She read faster than I did, and let out a scream, shaking me by the shoulders and beaming in surprise.

I had done it! Decent grades, grades I was proud of.

I had finally opened an envelope and felt relief, felt pride and this time when I cried, I didn’t lock myself away in a bathroom, but rather jumped up and down with joy. I had done it!

That night, we went out for dinner and I didn’t want to run away when someone raised a glass to me. I celebrated with my friends and received emails from each of my teachers to congratulate me on my results. I basked in the ‘well done’ and ‘you did it’ cards, and when people asked me what I got, I told them proudly.

All of the fears I’d harbored about university were immediately muted when I was offered a place at Leeds Beckett University, studying a combined honours English and History degree, two subjects I had failed miserably at only a year before. No one had minded my blip, no one judged me only on my worst marks. They took me for what I had earned, what I had worked so hard to achieve.

I loved university, and I’m glad to say that I never suffered that same results day the entire time I was studying with them. Even when the country was put into lockdown halfway through my second year and most of my teaching was done solo from my bedroom, I still put my heart and soul into my work and every time I logged on to ‘Turnitin’, I felt that same pride and joy.

I wrote a dissertation about something I felt a deep passion for, and even though my graduation was a year delayed due to COVID, I was so proud to finally wear a cap and gown and graduate alongside my 2021 class.

Then in December, I interviewed in a small back room for a new company called Best in Class, run by Sophie and Scott. I knew from the minute I met them (and helped them accidentally erase their entire candidate base from a whiteboard), that I would love working with them and I felt the same apprehension waiting for their call that I had holding that envelope.

My luck hadn’t run out yet, and that afternoon I eagerly accepted a position working as a Candidate and Compliance Administrator, and I’m very happy to still hold that title. Since then, our team has grown, and more and more people have helped us to build the beautiful family that we have here.

December 2021 me couldn’t have dreamt of working for a company that supports its staff this much, and had so much passion for education. August 2017 me would have been stunned to see August 2021 me graduating from university with a dissertation and a degree that contained my entire heart and soul. And August 2016 me could never have believed that I would have received the A Level results that I did, and gone on to do all the amazing things I’ve done and will continue to do.

I was sure that 17-year-old me would be defined forever by those terrible grades that I got after that terrible year. I am very proud to report that 24-year-old me has not thought about those grades in a long time, and is defined now by being happier, being more driven, focused and determined to achieve the things I know I’m capable of.

One bad grade does not define you, not even an entire year of bad grades defines you. You are capable of more, of achieving what might sometimes seem impossible. Trust me!