A-level results: how to help disappointed students

Yes, the stakes are high, but disappointing results aren't the end of the game. Here are five ways to help your stressed students through results day

Jo Steer

a level results

As we approach the midway point of summer, some of us may be sporting a rather perkier, more relaxed demeanour than we exhibited in July.

That is, unless we’re worried about our A-level students.

And that’s nothing compared to what the students will be feeling.

Quick read: 5 things not to do on A-level results day as a teacher

Quick listen: The truth about mental health in schools

Want to know more? Is it wrong to help children in care get to university?

For many of them, the fun and tranquillity of summer has been increasingly overshadowed by dark clouds looming. Results day. Results day. Results day.

It’s a big deal. It’s something that many believe can make or break their plans – not only for the next few years at university, if that’s where they’re headed, but potentially for the rest of their lives.

And it’s true that the stakes are high. 

Which means that where results don’t match expectations, these young people will be in need of support, guidance and perspective. Here’s how you can provide those things:


Before you offer guidance, listen with empathy to what they have to say. At this point in their lives, this may be their first or worst experience of failure around something they’re emotionally invested in. Let them know that it’s OK not to feel OK.

Offer options

Once they’ve let go of the initial shock and upset, it’s time to take action. Stress to them that, although the situation may seem out of their control, it isn’t hopeless. If their results weren’t far off requirements, there’s a chance that they may have been accepted by at least one of their choices anyway.

a-level results day

If they genuinely feel that the results don’t reflect their efforts on the day in question, or over the year, they can request a re-mark. Just try to keep them focused on working with that they have, rather than feeding false hope.

Coach for clearing

If a student has been rejected by all their choices, it’s time for clearing, which can be a daunting prospect. Encourage them to jot down notes about their motivations, skills and passions and to come up with questions they need to ask when speaking to universities. 

It can also help to make the first phone call the one that they’re less invested in, allowing them to build confidence before speaking to their preferred options. 

Remind them that they don’t have to accept their first offer over the phone; they’ll have a couple of days to mull it over and decide which university, if any, is right for them. This is just about creating options.

Encourage introspection

Now is the time for a gut check. Push students to reflect honestly on what they want to do, away from the wants and needs of parents, teachers and friends. Ask them to reflect on their skills, qualities, likes and dislikes. 

Will they really be happy on that particular course, at that particular university? Would they prefer an apprenticeship, or a gap year? Are they trying to follow a path that they’ve chosen for themselves, or merely stumbled on to? 

Prioritise perspective

Whatever they decide, help them to regain perspective. Remind them that they are not defined by these results; that there are plenty of skills and qualities that can’t be measured by written tests; that setbacks are much more character-building than success; that although this change of direction might not be what they’d planned, that doesn’t mean it won’t work out brilliantly in the end.

Jo Steer is a teacher and experienced leader of SEND interventions

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