How To Cope With Exam Results?

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Ross Morrison McGill founded @TeacherToolkit in 2010, and today, he is one of the 'most followed educators'on social media in the world. In 2015, he was nominated as one of the '500 Most Influential People in Britain' by The Sunday Times as a result of...
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How are you feeling on results day?

In this post, I hope to impart my seasoned examination ‘results day’ advice for students, parents, teachers, middle leaders and views as an experienced senior teacher. Today marks the day when all students, teachers and school leaders receive their examination results. The ‘outcomes’ are the result of countless hours of hard work. Politicians may also get involved at some point, and have no doubt, they will.

On [GCSE / A Level results day], schools across the country will play host to scenes of joy and desperation as envelopes are torn open. Teachers will be relieved or rebuked depending on the results. Parents will fret (perhaps too much) about what it means for their children’s futures. Ministers will puff their chests and crow regardless of the outcome – bad results prove how much they have toughened things up; good ones show how schools are improving. Whatever else, there will be more photographs of young people leaping.

Read, What about children who have no place in the GCSE story? by @Miss_McInerney

After many years in schools, I have seen the highs and the lows on results day. Here is what I have to say to students, parents, teachers and middle leaders.

Advice for students:

I still remember the day of the examination results for me in 1989. Having attended, no less than four primaries and three different secondary schools all over the UK, my schooling was mixed. The most disruptive year came between year 10 and year 11 (4th and 5th year in old money) when I moved schools during my GCSEs. You’d have thought moving from Wales to England would not have caused too much disruption in terms of curriculum offer and syllabus, but it did; I had to change many subjects and in essence, study two-year courses within a one-year time-frame at school; unheard of 25 years ago, but fairly common today. As a consequence – and not an excuse – there was little support in and out of school and I left with just three ‘good’ GCSE passes.

I, therefore, had to retake most of my GCSEs in year 12, completing a one-year course in science and technology. This gave me the opportunity to secure a further eight GCSE grades (A*-C), and despite not studying directly alongside my peers, this option gave me the opportunity to commence A-level courses and eventually go on to university.

Over time, it has become apparent that the ‘race (or competition)’ with peers is not actually what you are led to believe. I later realised, well after university, that the ‘race’ in life is only with yourself, and that there are many roads to success and many ways to define it.

Exams and Success poster by @TeacherToolkit Image: Word Swag

Therefore, my advice to students reading this would be one of my favourite quotes I share with students each March to May (during the revision season);

The fight is won or lost far away from witnesses – behind the lines, in the gym, and out there on the road, long before I dance under those lights. ~ Muhammad Ali

Every child is different. Everyone is capable of great things and ‘success is what you make it.’ If you are a student reading this post and you have not achieved the grades that you had hoped for, do not be disheartened; there is someone who can help you and there is also an option/pathway available to you if you want to take it. You just don’t know what it is yet … So, if that’s you, get in touch with someone who can give you the help you need at your school/college or speak with a careers adviser to find out what you need to do, and what courses/careers suits you best.

And good luck!

Advice for parents:

I do not know what this feels like (at the time of writing), but I have experienced this from an ‘Uncle Ross’ perspective. The best advice I can offer is that you support your child no matter what. Celebrate the small achievements and go out of your way to throw a party for the huge attainment your child reaches (i.e. starting point and endpoint). If the child has achieved the grades that they had hoped for and can now go on to commence whatever pathways they wish to do next, whether this is a career or a college place to study A-levels, then please do celebrate. Today is a big achievement!

There will also be students and parents who wish to get to the bottom of some ‘unusual’ results. This can often be an ‘examination result’ that has come as a surprise and has not met predictions or personal expectations. Results can often not match teacher-predictions because examination boundaries change year on year. This is becoming increasingly hard to do accurately for many teachers because more and more, we are seeing grade boundaries change significantly in many subjects. I would encourage you to trust the teacher’s professional judgement. After all, it is a prediction of ‘what may come.’

The damaging consequences are, that this child may not be able to study the courses they had hoped for. Only last week, an upset parent emailed my wife during the school summer holidays to discuss A level results; how many teachers would respond to an email with compassion and advice? My guess is every teacher would do this, but it should not be an expectation of the parent that this will happen. In this email, it was apparent that there were high-emotions and disappointment, and on the off-chance that someone who read and respond to this email. (n.b. we were ‘not on holiday away from home’ and were able to reply) that advice could be offered.

The email response was brief to acknowledge the email and the information was forwarded onto someone who was in school to answer all ‘official’ examination queries. This may be the examination officer, the headteacher or the head of year/6th form. In this circumstance, the query was resolved quickly, but in some other situations, queries may require detailed investigations, re-marks and so on. My advice to any parents and students who are disappointed is to be patient and trust the school to resolve your concerns (in good time).

Advice for teachers:

Education is improving, despite what the government say.

“Examinations are getting harder, yet some schools maintain standards, despite the challenges.” (See tweet)

Year in year out, I’ve seen all sorts of emotions personally and professionally. No matter what your classroom results are, or the department results, or even what the collective year-group outcomes are, there is an extremely high-probability that teachers [you reading this] have worked your socks off and got the best out of your students! There will be always other interventions and ways of teaching that may have changed some outcomes. This is obvious. There will be the odd surprise, disappointment and of course many successes to celebrate. Yet, despite the constant tinkering by Ofqual and the DfE to tweak examinations, syllabus and grade boundaries, have no doubt, teachers will have worked very hard to reach this point.

There may be some difficult conversations and some exam and analysis ahead, but today marks a day for reflection on ‘your class teaching’ and most of all, your students’ successes. Students only have one go at this and they will remember this day for the rest of their lives. Many teachers will ‘text’ colleagues to gather a picture of whole-school performance, or sneak a look at ‘work emails’ sent by the examination officer, gaining an insight into how the school, the students and each class has performed. I know when I have seen this information, it is sometimes there and then that I decide whether or not to go into school.

If you’re feeling brave enough to go back into school on results day, then celebrate examination success with each and every child. The time for teacher, department and school performance conversations will come …

Advice for middle leaders:

This day will be incredibly important for you. And as soon as you gather a picture of your department’s performance, every middle I leader I know, will start analysing how students have performed in different classes. To help you with this, the #5MinResultsAnalysis has been produced by @LeadingLearner and @TeacherToolkit is designed to guide you through the process of analysing your own/departments/phases/schools results and leads you towards “The Big Picture.” This will allow you to know what went well and what you want to improve for the year ahead with new classes. It will also prepare you for exam reviews and meetings with your headteacher.

My advice here, regardless of outcomes, is interrogate the date to find out what worked – to the smallest of details – and start to reflect on interventions that could be kept or discarded. Measure the effort versus the impact against outcomes and decide what is worth investing. There will always be lessons to learn; just make sure you know them in advance of any planned meeting with line-managers and your headteacher.

7. The 5 Minute Results Analysis Plan

Advice for senior teachers:

For the past eight years as a senior teacher I have developed different views of results day. As I have outlined above, what I do and how I perceive examination results has shifted from my role as a classroom teacher towards senior leadership. Today, I am in my school celebrating with my staff and students. I am already analysing ‘what went well’ and ‘even better if.’

Every senior leader will be completing a mixture of the following;

  • number crunching
  • investigating anomalies
  • contacting exam boards
  • preparing press releases
  • reading the press and national picture
  • contacting colleagues and ‘other senior leaders’
  • preparing for results collection
  • this list is endless …

Regardless of outcomes, students, teachers and schools continue to succeed despite “examinations are getting harder.

Well done to all …




One thought on “How To Cope With Exam Results?

  1. Grandparents too – my grandson’s school closed the 6th form at no notice after awful results. The stress is shocking

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