Five things not to say on GCSE results day

Perhaps your students should have worked harder, but now is not the time to say so – Haili Hughes gives her top five teacher no-nos after the envelopes are opened

Haili Hughes

gcse results day teachers

Results day can be a rollercoaster.

Some students will be giddy after getting what they need to go on to their next chapter, but others may feel like their worlds have collapsed around them because they didn’t get what they expected.

Our role as teachers is so important at that moment.

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Our students are looking for us to support and encourage them, but it can be difficult to find the right words. The wrong ones, however, can often come flying out.

So here are the top five things you should never, ever say on GCSE results day

'Hopefully everyone else in the country has done badly and the grade boundaries have gone down'

Although this comment comes with good intentions, it may have the opposite effect at both ends of the result spectrum. 

If a pupil hasn’t done as well as they hoped, it will make them think that they couldn’t even pass with low grade boundaries and therefore there’s no hope for them.

If they’ve done well, they will think it is only because the grade boundaries were low. Unhelpful for everyone.

'Don’t worry, results don’t really matter'

Of course they do. Yes, students can take a more winding route to their desired destination if the path they were planning on is now closed to them.

But saying that results don’t matter rubbishes others’ achievements and is, frankly, baffling: we’ve spent the last two years telling them in lessons and assemblies that they do! 

Students need to build resilience and learn to deal with failure. Telling them it never mattered does not help with this.

'Richard Branson only got three GCSEs and look at him'

It can be tempting to use examples of fabulously successful people to show how results are not an indication of how great your life could be.

Don’t. It is not what students are interested in while they are feeling emotional and unable to see past their own situation.

Also, these people and their experiences seem so far removed from most 16-year-olds that it just encourages them to negatively compare themselves. I have been guilty myself of using my own experience of failing A-levels. 

It’s never given my students much comfort though; for many, ending up as a teacher is the worst thing they can imagine at that moment.

'Exams were much harder in my day'

This is not only unhelpful but totally untrue. GCSEs are hard! Last year, I sat a mock exam with my class to prove that I could do it too and my hand genuinely felt like it was about to fall off.

And that was only one exam out of tens that those students took over that stressful period.  

'You should’ve worked harder'

Definitely too soon. The pupil may not have listened or revised as much as they should have, and in time they will probably regret that.

But after opening the envelope, it will take time for them to reflect on what happened. This is a vital step in resilience they need to take themselves, without judgey comments.

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