For some reason, probably just the residual layer of madness that I have had since March last year concerning lockdown, I had blanked out the fact that the GCSE maths and English November resit results were due out last week.
When the results come out in the summer the date has been in my diary all year, I’ve not slept the night before and I run the full gamut of emotions with the students, and usually end up diving face first into a takeaway that will significantly shorten my life at the end of the day. For the resits results, I just happened to be in the office when they were released, and they turned another day on the lockdown treadmill into something infinitely more special.
First there was the student who called me asking what his result was. I was not allowed to tell him, but I could see right in front of me that after three attempts where he had achieved a grade 3, he had come out with a grade 5.
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I was trying to talk him through our online portal for students, which, of course, I can’t see as I have the teacher version. “Click on ProPortal. No, that’s the VLE, ProPortal. Top link, left-hand side. Now sign in. No, your college email. Your password has been the same all year. OK, now click ‘information’, then ‘enrolments’. No, that sounds like an entirely different website…”
Eventually he found it, and bless him, he said: “I don’t think it’s right because it says I got a 5."
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That was my first tear of the day. Disbelief was a common reaction.
One student who needed a 4 in English to get to uni could not believe that on his fourth attempt he had come out with a grade 6. He had been so resigned to getting another 3 that he hadn’t even bothered listing the resit on his Ucas form. Luckily the deadline has been moved so he could add it. Now he’s almost certainly off to his first choice uni in September.
Having results day entirely online meant that a lot of students misunderstood where to find their results. I was surprised that one of my girls who has slogged through GCSE English for the past two years had not called me to scream excitedly down the phone that she got her 4.
I sent a tentative message through Teams to see if she had received the news. “I failed again,” she said. I checked, double- and triple-checked. Nope, she had a 4. I asked her to screenshot what she was looking at and, sure enough, she was looking at old landmark assessment grades and not the exam result. I told her where to check, and suddenly the emojis started flooding in. Shocked, wide-eyed face followed by grinning face. This was followed by crying face – but that was in real life and it was me.
'It always brings me to tears'
The one that had me full-on ugly sobbing at the desk was the Polish student who needed a 4 to become a firefighter. He had been studying music just until he was old enough to apply for the fire service. He’s been in my class since level 2 (he is now on level 3 extended diploma) and used to tell me all the time that he couldn’t speak English very well when, in fact, his spoken English was fluent.
He was a good GCSE student, just seeming to top out at a grade 3, which he got five times. He would ask to stay and work in my classroom on his written assignments so I could check them because his confidence in English was so low. He got his maths grade 4 last year at the fifth time of asking as a centre-assessed grade, and emailed me because he was worried that it wasn’t showing up on his profile (he was looking at the wrong academic year).
I reassured him that he had his 4 in maths, and he told me: “Good, because now I’ve got a 4 in English, and I’ve passed my written stage for the fire service." It was like Niagara Falls on my face. I soon learned I wasn’t the only one as even the usually stoic head of maths and English told me: “It always brings me to tears. Long after they’ve forgotten us, the result of that exam will still be having an impact on their lives."
I doubt the students know how emotional their success makes us, especially when we see how long they have fought for it. Of course, if it was widely accepted that a grade 4 was not the maths and English Holy Grail, and that there are exceptional vocational students who have a grade 2 or 3, there’d be no need for tears from anyone. When that day comes I’ll certainly have something to celebrate.
Kirsty Walker teaches at a college in the North West of England