A library decorated with balloons. Dozens of staff ready to welcome students with broad smiles on their faces. That was the scene welcoming learners at Leeds City College’s Park Lane campus this morning, as more than 3,000 students received their GCSE maths and English resit results.
Not all of them would come in in person, of course – many students chose to be sent their results by post – and they were spread across the institution’s campuses. But still, throughout the morning, hundreds of students queued to get hold of that envelope that would tell them how they had performed in their exams.
Background: GCSE English and maths: do I need to resit them?
GCSE resits: pass rate drops
Considering the drop in the pass rate nationally, the mood was upbeat and cheerful across all staff there to welcome and support their students, lecturers, tutors, support staff and senior management. The reasons for this, deputy principal Bill Jones believes, was a shift in mindset from solely considering that crucial grade 4 as a success, to an approach centred around progress and development for each learner.
The range of students coming through the door was as broad as is to be expected in a large FE college – from 16-year-olds in the 16+ Apprenticeship Academy that offers an alternative to mainstream schooling for those who struggle, to young high achievers with grade 9s in their exams and university offers in their pocket, to adult learners bringing their children to pick up their results.
And their emotions upon opening their envelopes were just as varied – from disappointment to resignation, satisfaction to delight and even tears of joy.
One of the first to pick up his results – as well as those of his wife – was Gary Holmes, who brought his children, aged 1 and 3, to the college. Having previously achieved a D in his maths GCSE, he decided to resit the qualification when it transpired his wife would have to do so to pursue her dream as a teacher. “I wanted to support her,” he says. “But I am also quite competitive, so I wanted to do better.” He did manage just that, incidentally: he achieved a grade 5, while his wife Corinne got a 4 – the grade she needed to now start her PGCE. “She is absolutely thrilled,” he smiles, admitting revision required a lot of time and focus from both of them.
“It was hard, but it is doable. We would put the kids to bed and revise in the evening. It meant lots of sleepless nights.” Also delighted is Thomas Farina, who passed his English GCSE with a grade 5 – only a few grades off what would have previously been a B – despite working alongside his college studies. “I am pleased. It has been quite challenging, especially having to find the time to put into it. I missed five weeks of English because of the trainee course I was doing – so I probably could have done even better. But now I will definitely come back to college and study computer games design. I have always been interested in that.”
With so many students struggling to attain that grade 4 threshold required, there is inevitably disappointment, too. Staff, however, are quick to highlight the progress made by those students that have moved from a grade 1 up to a 2, from a 2 to a 3. “You will pass. You didn’t this time, but you will,” one teacher tells a student on her third attempt. The approach works, it seems – within minutes, that student is enquiring about the next resit date and how to enrol for another attempt.
It is one of the most striking features of results day at Leeds City College: the lengthy conversations staff have with many students, regardless of their results. “I am proud of you,” one lecturer tells a student, off to university in September. Another shares that she herself did not pass all her exams on the first attempt. “Look at how far you have come,” she tells the resit students.
“This is what it is all about,” says Jonathan Diamond, English teacher and co-ordinator for English and maths at the college. “I am really happy with how my learners have done, they have all made great progress. So when I see those big smiles today, that is what it is all about.”