Exam results days 2021: A head of department’s guide

GCSE results day is going to be a challenge – an assistant head offers tips on dealing with disappointed students and parents in the best way possible

Rebecca Lee

How to deal with upset parents and students on results day

Result day 2020 was tough – and, we thought, unique. But 2021 has something similar in store – but with a twist on last year. 

After all, with the news that we would be using teacher-assessed grades for exam assessments, school leaders knew we would likely see a situation where students unhappy with their results would point the finger of blame at their teachers – perhaps even more so given there is no 'centre assessed' element this year to fall back on.

So, just as in 2020, teachers are vulnerable to being blamed for the results, and will invite comparisons between schools. The key, then, is for heads to ensure they are ready for this and know how to deal with any situations that may arise.

GCSE results day 2021: Advice for heads of department

So, what challenges do heads of departments face and how can we prepare?

1. Dealing with upset parents and students

Just like last year, schools face the problem of issuing grades themselves, and so will be the target for criticism from both parents and students.

These results won’t be (or shouldn’t be) plastered across school websites and social media; nor will they be the basis for league table comparisons or used to hold departments to account. Our focus, therefore, needs to be on supporting students and their families as they process whatever that envelope holds for them. Being prepared for this is key.

2. Planning your approach

Get ahead of this with your team. How should your team respond to the emails of upset students or parents?

You might want to prepare a holding email that your team can send in reply to queries that includes advice for where to seek support and information about your school’s protocol for sharing ranking or mock data and information about the process by which teacher-assessed grades were decided.

What you want to avoid is individual teachers potentially getting themselves into difficulty by saying something out of turn. You may want to advise that all queries for your subject come through you.

3. Handling appeals

The appeals process expects schools to deal with the first step in any complaints, and therefore it is important that any queries about grades are dealt with using a clear process. 

The Joint Council for Qualifications has guides for schools on how to process appeals, and suggestions for things we can do now in order to try and reduce the likelihood of appeals in the summer. Make sure you are familiar with this before the day so you're not having to look it all up on the day.

Read: Tes' guide to appeals 2021

4. Supporting upset staff

You may find that team members are upset, frustrated or angry. This is to be expected when there have been so many changes to the process of how results have been decided this year, and when teachers may feel blamed from all sides.

The best you can do is reassure your team members that they’ve done what they can.

We’ve all done our best and will continue to do what we can for our students, even if they haven't got the grades they wanted. I would recommend a hug but it’s going to have to be virtual.

5. Signposting the next steps

Unlike previous years, there’s no exam or class performance data to pick apart – we won’t be getting our steer by looking back.

As head of department what you need to do now is take the opportunity to bring your team together and look ahead to how you’re going to tackle the challenges of this new academic year.

Rebecca Lee is assistant headteacher at Wyvern St Edmund’s Learning Campus, part of Magna Learning Partnership

Register to continue reading for free

It only takes a moment and you'll get access to more news, plus courses, jobs and teaching resources tailored to you

Latest stories