Humans of Clevedon – Janey Little.

The nerve-racking wait was over on 23rd August, the day when over 700,000 teenagers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland made their way to school to pick up their GCSE results. It’s an emotional day for all concerned: the culmination of years of study and months of intense revision for students; the anxiety of parents and carers, worried about the futures of their children and keen to support them on this last leg of what has been the most challenging journey; and the reactions of staff, (who will not have slept the previous night), one minute joyous, jumping up and down for those who have been successful whilst the next, quietly consoling the sad student, disappointed in what they have achieved. It really is an emotionally draining, gut wrenching day.

For Janey, from Clevedon School, it was the best of days – she achieved a phenomenal 12 grade 9s and one grade 8, just one mark off a clean sweep of 13 grade 9s. 

When Janey’s Business Studies exam was re-marked, it came back with a grade 9 score, giving her 13 top marks.

Janey’s Business Studies teacher Chris Blake was thrilled, saying:

“I was aware Business was the only subject where Janey had not got a perfect 9, despite consistently achieving 9s in our assessments, so I was both confident and praying hard that this re-mark would come up with what she deserved.”

It is the third year of results for the new-style GCSE exams in England, which have less coursework, a greater focus on exams at the end of two years and replace the previous A* to G grades with a scale running from 9 to 1.

Grade 9 is not the same as A*, it is designed to recognise the very highest performing students, so there are fewer grade 9s than there were A*s. Grade 8 straddles the top of the old A and the bottom of the old A*, so there is no direct comparison with A*.

In England, 837 students achieved a full set of 9s in seven or more subjects, with girls making up two-thirds of the high-flyers. Overall, more than 220,000 grade 9s were awarded but Janey was the only student in the country to get 13 grade 9s.

When I asked Janey what it felt like to be heralded as the girl with the best GCSE results in the country, in her usual very modest fashion, she mentioned that she thought another student from a private school had achieved the same after a remark. She was however, delighted with her achievement as were her family, the school community and the local community.

I wondered what Janey would say was the best piece of advice she would give to the current Year 11 at Clevedon School where she is in Year 12 doing A levels in Maths, English Literature, History and Politics as well as self-teaching Latin and Religious Studies.

She identified getting into the habit of revising as an essential strategy. She would use the time after school to do homework and after a break she would revise from half past six to nine in the evenings and from half past four to seven in the morning. Such a committed work ethic will be very useful to Janey’s self-teaching of A level Latin and Religious Studies which she is planning to sit at the end of the year. 

I was interested as to what had been the biggest challenge leading up to her GCSEs and Janey felt that stress had played a significant role, particularly at the time of in class tests and during mock exams. Having to find ways of dealing with this, meant that when it came to the real thing she felt relatively relaxed, she knew what she was doing, she had done it many times before and she just got on with it.

Given her work schedule, I could not imagine how Janey found time to write because her other massive achievement is that she has penned four unpublished novels and is currently working on a piece of non-fiction. Last year, she would fit the writing in during slots after school when she didn’t have a lot of homework or at the weekend. This year she is dedicating her Sunday evenings and holidays to the writing.

Janey’s novel writing started in Year 8 with a text of about 60,000 words. I wondered if there was a common theme or recurring theme in her fiction writing and she identified self-improvement and overcoming challenges as the main themes. Her non-fiction work is looking at social issues from a teenage perspective and it is the non-fiction pathway that she would like to explore and develop and where she has had great interest from a publisher.

Janey herself is a committed reader and has quite diverse reading tastes but is moving away from the contemporary, young adult fiction to non-fiction specifically political and philosophical hence the change of direction in terms of her writing. She is currently reading David Cameron’s memoir ‘For the Record’. Both being bibliophiles, we had the conversation about Kindle v real books and the difficulties of doing a book cull!

I was careful not to ask Janey what she did to relax but rather what else she did, besides the reading and writing because I knew these two would be her main means of relaxation. A study carried out by the independent research consultancy Mindlab International based at the Sussex Innovation Centre in Brighton found that reading can reduce stress levels. The stress levels and heart rates of study volunteers were first increased through a range of tests and exercises. The volunteers were then presented with a variety of traditional methods of relaxation, and researchers monitored the effects. Based on the results, cognitive neuropsychologist Dr. David Lewis concluded that reading for just six minutes can reduce stress by 68%. He discovered that subjects only needed to read, silently, for six minutes to slow down the heart rate and ease tension in the muscles. In fact it got subjects to stress levels lower than before they started.

Janey also loves watching YouTube videos on random topics, she has lots of learning apps and is a fan of TED talks and LBC. Janey just loves learning.

After her A levels Janey would like to go to university and read Politics, Philosophy and Economics and is planning to apply to Oxford. In terms of a future career, she is drawn to politics. She has just joined the Liberal Democrats and had recently attended the launch of Liberal Democrat Parliamentary candidate, Ashley Cartman, a local man, who has lived in North Somerset for ten years and who Janey holds in great esteem. She is a great supporter of Ashley, impressed with his passion, his drive, his clear cut values and she feels that he is focused on all that is important.

I was curious as to who Janey considered to be her greatest supporter and without hesitation she identified her Head of House, Mr Dickinson. Clevedon School is divided into four Houses and the role of Head of House is pivotal; it is the Head of House and the team of Tutors who have oversight of academic progress and the personal development of students.

Janey was a House Captain and House Leader which meant that she assumed a high level of responsibility within Marine House and would have worked closely with Mr Dickinson. She greatly admired his optimism, his passion, his caring nature and his willingness to go the extra mile, qualities that I observed in the four Heads of House in my time at the school. Janey hoped that she would develop these qualities, but knowing her as I do, and having interviewed her I would say she was already there.

Having said that, I was interested in what Janey herself currently identified as her qualities and strengths. She recognised that she was very self-disciplined and ambitious and had conquered her fear of judgment by others, a fear that can infringe on so many aspects of our lives. She is now quite open about her love of school and love of learning which in the past she sometimes found difficult to express. Janey sees her love of learning as a huge asset which of course it is because it translates to a real desire to explore new knowledge and ideas and to acquire new skills. A person who loves learning is interested and engaged and continues to move forward; they can adapt their skills set to new situations and environments and they will be well equipped to deal with the shifting demands of a world that is epitomised by the pace, depth and breadth of change.

I am sure that whatever field Janey ends up in, her intrinsic love of learning and her ability to articulate it are the factors that will lead her to the top.

I knew Janey was interested in politics and asked her about the politicians she admired. She readily mentioned Jo Swinson, Leader of the Liberal Democrats who had made it into politics at such an early age, being just twenty-five, when in 2005, she took her home seat of East Dunbartonshire, becoming not just the ‘baby of the house’ but also the first Westminster representative born in the 1980s.

The fact that Jo was so successful at such a young age, in a career dominated by older men is part of the reason that Janey holds her in such high esteem. She doesn’t think that Jo is perfect but she loves her courage, her passion, her authenticity and really feels that her heart is in the right place.

I wondered if Janey was as fearful as Greta about the future of the planet. Janey describes herself as an optimist by nature but did acknowledge that there was a need for immediate action in order to combat climate change. She felt that people like Greta who has brought the issue into the global spotlight and were pushing governments and corporations to address the climate crisis were doing a fantastic job. We agreed that the online abuse, the threats of violence and the conspiracy theories about her are shameful, although Greta herself seems undaunted by them.

Janey’s current dream is to go into politics and she espouses the values of ethical leadership such as respect, service, community, justice, and honesty, all of which came as no surprise.  This will be challenging in a political landscape full of ethical obstacles, or will it? Not for Janey, of that I’m sure!

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