Charles Dickens, English GCSE and the festive season

17 December 2014

Many years ago, in a land not so far, far from here, I was a GCSE student. Yes, I am young enough not to have done ‘O-levels’ … however, I am also young enough to have endured the ludicrous Key Stage 3 National Pilot in 1992 (which lasted for donkeys years), as well as other cognitive ability tests.

Growing up in Dorset, I went through a first, middle and secondary school system, changing schools at age 9 and 13. Throughout my middle school years (aged 9 to 13), I did either Richmond Tests of Basic Skills or Cognitive Abilities Tests (CAT) every year, being scored on a scale of 1 to 9, with the results proving whether I was average, above average or below the National average in England. Having located my CAT scores in Year 7 (when I was 11 or 12), it would appear that I was – surprisingly – considered to be in the top 4% of the National sample. The Richmond Test scores make more interesting reading with NINES across the board (from punctuation, use of capital letters, use of language and more) apart from reading comprehension which deteriorated from a SIX at aged 9 to a FIVE at aged 13. English was never going to be my strongest subject and clearly, the tests did not serve to highlight this and provide more support where it was needed!

When it came to English Literature, I found an unusual friend in Charles Dickens. He seemed to speak the same language as me, whereas poetry made no sense and trying to read what William Golding actually meant when he wrote certain things in Lord of the Flies was beyond me. I remember asking over and over again for new essay titles from my English teacher in an attempt to improve my grade and oh, how I begged to be allowed to use Great Expectations or David Copperfield for my exam text and not Macbeth and Lord of the Flies. Sadly, it was not possible and I blathered on about some darned thing in the exam, wondering how I was ever going to achieve the grade I wanted in English Literature. Hard work paid off and I achieved an A grade which, quite frankly, I still can’t quite believe is right to this day!

On many occasions, I have considered contacting my secondary school English teacher, Paul Benham, but I haven’t to date. I am sure he would be stunned to know that I am a published author – he probably would want proof as he would scarcely be able to comprehend that it was possible! Maybe I will in 2015….

Over the years and over the festive seasons, Charles and I have remained on good terms though I have less time to spend with him these days than I would like. I am grateful to him for his friendship though and his full set of novels – including my favourites Oliver Twist and A Christmas Carol – are sitting in pride of place in the bookcase in the living room/lounge/sitting room, constantly smiling at me and tempting me to take one from the shelf. Soon, Uncle Pumblechook …. you are ahead of Mr Fezziwig!

[Don’t forget to keep an eye out over the course of December for the hidden message in the titles of FWL blogs…. When you think you know, email us so as not to spoil it for others!]

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