Friday, 16 August 2013

I did the PC

but it had nothing to do with "political correctness". I don't think the term was even in use when I "did the PC". We all did it back then. It was the exam that determined which sort of high school you went to or, if you lived in a rural area, which stream you went into in the secondary section of the school.
But, let's start a little earlier than that. My parents did something called "the QC" and no, that did not mean "Queen's Counsel". It was "the Qualifying Certificate".
I saw a Qualifying Certificate yesterday. A very elderly woman showed me hers. She went on to high school and then to university. She studied medicine and became a doctor. Her mother, a teacher, had kept all her certificates. She had also kept copies of the examinations her daughter and others had been required to do.
I really do doubt a modern child could do them. It is all metric rather than imperial of course but even the standard number work would puzzled them. There really is a question about trains arriving and departing.
There is grammar too. You had to know your nouns, verbs, adjectives and much, much more. There was a formal letter to write and, I was told, "We had to have that properly set out, with all the commas in the right place too."
I can imagine. We wrote letters too.
They had history and geography. There was "composition" and spelling and reading comprehension and other things.
It was a tough test. By no means everyone passed it well enough to go to high school and they went off to technical high schools or did technical subjects in rural schools. Many of them left at the end of primary school because you could.
Ours was not as tough as that. The school leaving age was fourteen by then so most students had at least a couple of years of post primary education. Many students still left at that age. They got jobs in shops and factories, back on the farm, as labourers and elsewhere. Some of them did training at night.
I remember doing the exams for the Progress Certificate as the PC was properly called. They were set by the central office and sent out to all schools but they were marked locally. We did it over the last two years of primary school - at the end of each school year. The maximum marks were 500.
My memories of those exams are such that I have doubts that the children I now know could do those examinations either. The maths was still imperial rather than metric. (I can remember one question about cricket and how far someone would have run - and then how far the team would have run.)  I can remember we had to write a letter too. We had to write another "composition" as well. There was history and geography and nature science, spelling and grammar. The only marks I lost were marks for "writing" but I know that the boy behind me in my final year barely scraped through. He told my father that it didn't matter. He was going back on the farm.
I wondered about that when, having come home from seeing that Qualifying Certificate, I read about some examination results in England. Many students got their A level results yesterday. Some of them seem to have done very well - but they worked for it.
I wonder if those mathematical and linguistic whiz-kids could do the Qualifying Certificate papers, or if they could even do the Progress Certificate papers. They are smart, hardworking kids who will make great citizens. What they are learning is often quite different.  That's not a bad thing but I wonder what they know. They must know a lot I do not know.  

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