GCSE results day: a head of department’s guide

There will be surprises on results day, so how do you bring your team together afterwards? Rebecca Foster gives her tips

Rebecca Lee

GCSE results day: School students will have to adapt to more independent learning in sixth form or college, writes supply teacher Callum Jacobs

If you’re anything like me, you’ll be up early on Thursday morning, refreshing the exam board page until the results magically appear. As you scroll through, you’ll start to get a feel for how the cohort has done and you’ll probably pick up a few surprise results (both good and bad).

Unless you’re gatekeeping the results for some reason, your team members will soon know whether their class(es) have done better or worse than everybody else’s. But as a department head, how do you balance department success or disappointment with that of individual teachers’?

GCSE results: focus on students first

On results day itself, the focus really ought to be on the students. Teachers who’ve made the decision to come into work during their summer holiday are motivated to do so because they want to celebrate with, or offer support and guidance to, their students. They don’t need you to have a chat with them about how their class has done. Don’t do it.

However, should a teacher approach you to talk about their class’ performance, I’d be careful about what you say. You’ll only have had the results for a few hours at most, so whatever the teacher’s perception is of the results, the true picture won’t be clear until you’ve had a chance to analyse more carefully. Bring the conversation back to individual students or the department as a whole.

Remember that these results belong to the students. However hard the team has worked (for the past five years), a student’s grade is their own. That’s why there are always a few surprises you can’t account for. Sometimes a student makes a giant leap forward when they sit the actual paper while another may have been vomiting into a bucket throughout the exam. A teacher can only take their class so far: to the exam hall.

That’s not to say, of course, that teachers don’t have an impact on results. Of course they do. But the results are the culmination of years of work by the entire team. Remind your department of this.

Ask questions

When you begin to unpick class performance, you’re not coming to it cold. You’ll already have some idea of classes (or teachers) you expect to have done better or worse. 

If a class performance surprises you, delve a little deeper and ask questions: which students, or groups of students, have had the biggest impact on the class performance data? Why? How do these results match up with department trends? Was this class disproportionately affected or advantaged in some way, such as attendance? 

These questions will form the basis of any conclusions you draw and also the basis for discussions with the team; their insights will be vital.

In your first team meeting in September, focus on the results of the department; don’t pick apart class performance as a team. Celebrate individual students’ success and recognise any surprises while pulling out threads that you noticed in your analysis. 

By doing this you’re showing the teachers of those students that you know what they might be proud of, or nervous about, and where their results fit in with department trends.

Discuss patterns

The next step is meeting with individual teachers and getting their perspectives. This can be an invaluable opportunity for you to reassure worried and conscientious staff that things aren’t as bad as they appear at face value – those two students who didn’t sit the exam can have a huge effect on the class performance data. 

With others, it’ll be about unpicking why a class has done so well and considering how that success can be shared. It may be that you have to have some difficult conversations with some team members where a trend is emerging, but be wary of assuming too much from one set of results.

Above all, be human. Your team care about how their students have done and how they’ll be perceived as a teacher. It’s a balancing act to both praise the team and reassure individual teachers or reassure the team and praise individual teachers. Be questioning, thoughtful and measured and you won’t go far wrong.

Rebecca Foster is head of English and specialist leader of education at Wyvern St Edmund’s Learning Campus in Wiltshire

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