Yes, it's A-level results day for England and Wales (Scots do Highers at 17 years old). Cue the usual howling voices about dumbing down, and the inevitable Telegraph and Daily Mail pictures of attractive blonde schoolgirls celebrating. Apparently nobody else does well.
Are A-levels dumber than previously? They're certainly different, and they aren't as wide-ranging as the rather good International Baccalaureate, but I'm just not equipped to judge. I do, however, feel that we spend a lot of the first year encouraging independent thinking and trying to undo the psychological damage caused by the secondary system.
However, don't despair if you haven't achieved what you needed. I was rubbish in school, only doing well in the things I enjoyed, and even managed to misunderstand the instructions for one subject, resulting in a lower grade. My headmaster, a very unpleasant man, even used my university reference as an opportunity to recommend that I not be given a place at university.
So I ended up using the clearing system to find a place at Bangor University (then University College of North Wales) and it was the making of me. In between sport, writing for the union paper, boring people to tears on committees, making lifelong friends, going on demonstrations and drinking perhaps more than was healthy, I ended up with a few prizes and a first-class degree, then an MA, and now a PhD.
This isn't meant to be boastful - I'm still amazed I passed my BA - but to remind you that all exams are artificial: being bad at them doesn't mean you're thick. Using Clearing isn't a mark of shame, and you might find that the new atmosphere at university is exactly what you need to shine.
The important thing is this: find a subject you love, and you'll stick to it. It might not even feel like work, as mine didn't: I just wanted to read books, and an English degree demanded little more than literacy and an opinion.
Once you get there, remind yourself that just like you, everybody else is keeping quiet because they think they'll sound stupid. I'm horrendously shy, but forced myself to speak in seminars and to ask for clarification during lectures.
I hate the fact that you're having to pay for this, and you'll be surrounded by people talking about employability blah blah blah. Bollocks to that. You've got three years to think about, read, talk about and write about things in a way which won't happen again for the rest of your life. Grab it. Once you're there, you can change courses, clothes or personality as often as you need. After the first week, nobody cares what you got for your A-levels, or your background. You're free.
If, after a lecture, you don't feel like your head's been messed with, you haven't been listening. A good education should change you profoundly - but it's your responsibility as much as it is mine and my colleagues'.
Good luck for tomorrow.
As I won't be around for a Friday or even Thursday conundrum, here's a themed one: what are the best and or worst teachers/educational experiences you ever had? I'll add my many pages when I get back from Oslo in a few days.