To anyone who completed secondary school in the past 30 years, GCSE results day is an enormously memorable day. A widely shared experience. I still remember the day I got my GCSE results and the moment my head of year gave me an envelope and mouthed a quick "good luck" before handing out results to friends and other students. I remember it as a strange event: full of hope and anxiety. Did I do enough revision? Will I get into college? What’s next?
I also remember the disappointment and worry on the faces of friends who didn’t receive the magical grade C, and the questions that followed. For around a third of students, this worry is a reality, and for them GCSE classes begin all over again in the September that follows.
Podcast: A new approach to GCSE resits
Need to know: GCSE resits: When will November results be published?
Much is written about GCSE results day, and how many students will have to resit exams, but very little is published about what happens to those students who come agonisingly close to a grade 4 and their journey after August.
When making the move to FE from the secondary sector, I was completely unaware of the sheer size and scale of November resits – in 2019, 109,495 students sat GCSE English and math exams (an increase of 5 per cent on 2018). And with some colleges entering up to 1,000 students in the November resits, January results day becomes a massive exercise for everyone concerned.
GCSE resits results day 'is more stressful'
If anything, January results day is a turbocharged version of the original – it's certainly more stressful for students. Many see it as their last chance, others are not confident that they will have passed a second time around, even attending GCSE lessons after completing the November exam (this was certainly a new experience to me, let alone our students).
There are many logistical problems to deal with, like ensuring that staff are available to answer questions, and also many emotional problems to deal with on the ground, supporting devastated students who don't make the grade.
To prepare, staff will often try and have lessons covered on results day morning so that they can spend time with the students. Though letters are sent, last-minute phone calls also take place to remind students of results day and what they need to do.
On the morning of results day, we gather in the staffroom to discuss results and highlight any students who need to complete paperwork for a review of marking – and those only a few marks from the prized grade 4. This can also be a testing time for managers and leaders who jostle with staff about which students will and won’t have their papers reviewed, while finding and justifying the cost, which often results in a bill of thousands of pounds.
At Tyne Coast College and around the country, the student experience starts at around 8.30am, as students file into the reception area, searching for their brown results envelopes. From there, students receive words of comfort and support from staff while they make comments that range from the confident ("I’ve easy got a grade 7 this time!") to the anxious ("Do you think I’ve got it?").
With this in mind, we do everything we can to support students as they move upstairs to collect their results. With staff attempting poker faces (most know student results), brown envelopes are opened. Some prefer to open results in private, while staff secretly try and cajole those who have just missed out to open theirs privately so we can begin to discuss next steps.
The importance of student-teacher relationships
It is here that the amazing student-teacher relationships in FE really shine through: staff congratulate those who have the grade they want, and comfort those who do not. As all staff know on results day, it is enormously important that we are positive. Whether this means celebrating a student who gained 5 extra marks (but achieved less than a grade 4) as evidence that they are improving and can do it, or starting the review-of-marking process.
For a head of department, it’s a strange day. Results are typically revealed and analysed the day before, with most decisions on marking reviews already made and thoughts on changes for August results day, and potentially day-to-day practice, already formulating.
Once the initial buzz wears off, students begin to leave slowly, on phones and celebrating with friends, family and course tutors. This usually leaves a small group of demoralised students who know they must again sit exams in May and June. It is often here that the work really starts for the wonderful English and maths staff in FE.