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August, 2012

GCSEs and A levels are easier…so let’s make them harder. Really?

I always find this time of year frustrating when exam results come out for young people – results on which the future depends – or so it seems for those affected. For young people of 16 or 18, getting the ‘right’ results can feel like it’s the only important thing in the world.

And that makes me so angry. It’s also all the media coverage of journalists in schools and colleges with students poised to open their results envelopes. And oh surprise! It’s all As and A*s and Bs, no failures, no really low marks…..

 

Do I blame the media for this? Not entirely.

Everyone should have a chance to shine.....

Everyone should have the opportunity to shine.....

 

I do blame the industry for continually telling the same story in the same way. Wouldn’t it be refreshing to follow a young person who didn’t do so well and help them find a new way forward? How useful would that be?

But, of course, any journalist knows that it’s not that easy. What school or college wants to put forward a student who is not at the top of the class?  Who wants to line up potential failures for exposure? And which young person is willing to be publicly shown as not having done very well?

 

The truth is that many, many young people don’t get As and A*s or even Bs or Cs. Yet the overriding impression is that more people are getting these grades so the examinations must be getting easier.

Examinations are now very different to the outdated O level and CSE system. In those days, you had one opportunity to shine and it occurred during a two or three hour window in a high pressure examination, based on what you could remember.

If, like me, you didn’t function well under that kind of pressure as a teenager – the thought that now my own children can gain marks for the long piece of coursework they’ve slaved over and lavished passion upon is uplifting. To me, it’s a much fairer system allowing youngsters who don’t thrive under examination pressure to have their chance to shine. And that’s generally how degrees and higher education and vocational qualifications work.

I do agree with high pressure examinations being part of a marking system – as life is full of high pressure situations, including a professional life. But that’s not all that is important. Coursework has its place and should be considered, especially in very vocational courses.

Also I think we should hear far more about what to do if you don’t do as well as you hoped. I worked very hard for my O levels and did reasonably well – but now when I go for a job no one cares if I’ve got O levels let alone what the grades were….but then I’m old….

As for A levels, I did pass but that was about all. And that was hugely disappointing – I was expected to be an A/B grade student. I turned out not to be. I would have been the student who, being filmed, was beaming as they opened that envelope and then in floods of tears for not having achieved what was expected.

So what did I do while clasping my C,D,E grades in my hands – knowing I’d failed to gain a place at university studying Medieval English, which was my passion at the time. Did I re-take my examinations to get better grades? Did I give up on higher education and try to find a job?

In my case, I took advice from the school and applied at ‘lower’ level establishments, went through a secondary interview  process for courses which were not full. I went to Bath College of Higher Education (now Bath Spa University) to study on a new BA Hons course in Combined Studies of English Literature & History. And I had a brilliant time there, met some great friends and worked alongside some wonderful lecturers. I must name check here Dr Mara Kalnins – who was very special to me as we shared a love for the work of author D H Lawrence.

While waiting to start my course, an article came out in the local paper listing the achievements of the students who’d done well and where they would be going to study. My name was last and it simply said ‘Fiona Bune is going to Bath’. The suggestion, to me, was that readers would assume I was going to the University of Bath. I’d rather they’d put nothing because it made me feel like an also-ran, an after thought. Years later, I became the reporter on that weekly newspaper managing and writing such stories – what an irony.

So this blog is a message to all of those young people who didn’t get the As and A*s and who are feeling that somehow they’ve failed. You have not failed. You simply are now required to re-assess and think about what you want to do next – then ask for help to get there. How you handle this situation will say far more about who you are – than any amount of A grades. And that’s what a future employer will remember…..

 

At a time of pride over the Olympics – we’re celebrating too!!! Find out why?

Today I feel hugely proud of our company, Mellow Media Ltd, as I have just attended a meeting which brought to a close three months’ work on an amazing project.

We have played an important part in running, developing and implementing a marketing strategy to raise well over £4m in just six weeks.

Let’s just think about that for a moment – that’s £666,667 a week or £95,238 every day. 

Anyone connected with me on my social media network could have picked up my messages and tweets about Westmill Solar Cooperative or @westmillsolar.
It was the brainchild of Wiltshire farmer and entrepreneur Adam Twine to create a solar power station on his land but, instead of allowing a big company in to run the station, offer it up to people within the wider community. A less lucrative option for him – but in keeping with his green ethics.
Investors could bid for shares by putting in an investment of between £250 and £20k maximum. If successful, the cooperative will allow one investment, one vote. The aim was to make the cooperative accessible, open to as many people as possible and giving all an equal say, regardless of their investment or wealth.
Adam has created a similar project before, on the same site, Westmill Windfarm – that had taken years to come to fruition and had also raised a similar sum in community shares but  over a longer period, 12 weeks – and a different economic time -2007. Five years on, it has over 2,000 investors and is providing strong returns on that investment.
This time, while the integrity of the project was clear, it seemed a tall order to raise that much money. Together we came up with a marketing strategy which involved much PR, advertising, leafleting, e-mailing and other features. In our case, we looked after PR, advised on other parts of the strategy as and when required.
We’d worked on the project from mid-May working towards the opening of a share offer in mid-June which would stay open for around six weeks – a cut-off date of July 31. The aim was to raise more than £4m from would-be investors to create the UK’s only community-run solar power station.

In fact the world’s largest community run solar power station. 

 

Hundreds invested millions in UK's largest community run solar power station

This was a big ask. We are in a long-term economic depression with many businesses being happy just to survive. And many families suffering a stagnation or drop in income.
In our favour,  we had a small, but illustrious team of people hoping to raise that kind of money in a short space of time. And fantastic partners who would step in to help out and support us as much as possible. And the offer on the table was a strong one – returns way above anything a bank could offer at the moment, or for the foreseeable future.
But, of course, PR is never guaranteed. This felt like a test of the value of PR as it’s so difficult to quantify. It’s about brand, messaging, information sharing and story-telling all rolled into one. So we stuck to our basic principles of telling a story well, with accuracy and always a picture. And we always had something new to say – a new nugget, a new angle.
 When the share offer closed on July 31, it was over-subscribed by some margin. The message had clearly got out there. How did that happen?
As it was a project rather than a ‘slow burn PR strategy for the long-term’, I tracked some of the coverage we received.  I found almost 100 separate items both online and offline. More than 50 per cent were online, and often, but not exclusively, within the specialist ‘green’ or ‘renewable energy’ sector.
More than 30 per cent were articles and features in the local press – within a 40km radius covering Wiltshire, Oxfordshire, Gloucestershire and Bristol.
There were around eight radio interviews or mentions in that period and two exposures on regional television. As for the national press, there were five items in total, on and offline.
None of this included the fact that traditional written articles which appear in a newspaper, magazine or paper publication also tend to appear online – so the online total was probably much higher.
As the ideal target was reached, our role has now ended. But has it? When involved in a project like this which had a very specific beginning, middle and end – something always remains.
For me it’s a deeper respect for those who work in the renewable energy sector, who do so, often in the face of much cynicism because they feel it’s the right thing to do. Even though they might have to justify their position often.
Friends have been made, connections forged which will continue in to the future. And it’s this legacy, at a personal level, which will mean the most.

Olympic fever has new social media spin this time……don’t you think?

I am not a sporty person – clearly if you know me in real life you will know this to be true. Tubby is a word one could associate with me quite easily (no cheeky comments required).

None of this has put me off the Olympics – I really find it is the ‘greatest show on earth’ and it’s enthralled us all as a family every day and every night. And we are so lucky to have tickets for both rowing and athletics so we will be enjoying it up close and personal for two days. From @Swindon to @EtonDorney & @London2012.

But one thing which has really changed for me this time is the importance of Twitter during this event. Almost every day an athlete mentions how many extra followers they’ve got, what someone has been saying – and the one over-riding theme is that this ability to connect really matters to them.

Of course, there’s the immediate buzz of spectators and support on home turf – but it’s the more remote connections through social media which are really coming through. This is especially true in the swimming, where many competitors are so much younger. Surely this is sign of things to come.

There are risks as well in being so open – our wonderful diver Tom Daley found this out when some vindictive person started saying horrible things. But even though that happened that simply caused a huge ‘upsurge’ in even more support for him. And the culprit appears to have been arrested, so maybe next time he’ll think twice.

And Tom Daley handled it brilliantly – he did what many celebrities do in those circumstances – he let everyone see the tweet/tweets. And the result proved that confronting anything that’s vile by being dignified & professional – almost always leads the perpetrator into hot water.

So anyone who uses Twitter to be unkind, or plain nasty, be aware – social media is quite capable of policing itself. With very real consequences.

Another thing which this has demonstrated is how lonely many athletes must be most of the time as they perfect their art. They work away 365 days of the year, some completely alone, and most of us only see their flashes of brilliance. It’s a journey of endurance, hard work, little recognition most of the time. But the Olympics has provided a chance for these athletes to connect with the public and for us to connect with them.

I have felt it important to be supportive – I don’t expect replies but that’s not the point. It’s about appreciating their efforts whether or not they get a medal or even get to a final. How many of us can even say we’re Olympians? Or that we are in the top 30 in the world at anything?

This is a time when being British, supporting @TeamGB, @London2012, @TomDaley1994, @BeckyAdlington, @stephaniehoughton2 and all the other runners, riders, cyclists and everyone else has come easily and naturally.

 

Coloured by @TeamGB

 

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