GCSE and A-level results days in 2021 will be another new experience for teachers, parents and students alike, with teacher-assessed grades (TAGs) replacing last year's centre-assessed grades. How that goes remains to be seen.
Regardless, a major challenge for schools is how to run a results day that keeps everyone safe by enacting socially distancing measures that make the day work smoothly and perhaps even retain that air of excitement and awareness that this is a key day in every student's educational journey.
Tes spoke to two schools about their different approaches to the day.
Coronavirus: GCSE results day 2021
School one: socially distant celebrations
Jan Hetherington, vice-principal of Wykham Park Academy in Banbury, says she wanted to make sure that her students didn’t feel the way their results were generated lessened their significance.
"At Wykham Park, we felt this year has been tough for our Year 11 students. I believe they have had even more disruption compared with the previous Year 11 cohort," she says.
"Last year, we put on extra celebrations to mark the collection of results, and they proved to be very popular so we decided that we should do it every year for those collecting their GCSE results, regardless of Covid."
The students will arrive to collect their results to be greeted by an ice cream van, barbecue and congratulatory banners.
As well as personalised letters from senior staff members, students have also written motivational letters to themselves to open along with their results.
"The letters very much tie in with the theme: the future is in their hands," says Hetherington. "Since returning after Easter they have been on a path of learning and assessments. They’ve been made aware of the process following the decision not to have exams and they’ve understood that they will get back what they put in – they are the ones who have had the power to change their future."
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Of course, there will also be meticulous organisation of the collection of results to ensure that the day happens safely.
"Students will be split into five alphabetical groups, with each group receiving their result envelope (and positive message) from a station,” Hetherington explains. “The stations will be placed outside.”
Sunny skies and calm winds will be hoped for, but cannot be guaranteed. In the event of inclement weather, the school leaders will switch tactics.
“There is a plan B where students will [collect from] an indoor station with its own entrance and exit,” she says.
Once students have got their results, they will be guided to their registration for our sixth-form provision or will go to a careers adviser for support, or a senior member of staff.
But what about those students who feel upset and confused by their results? Hetherington has planned for those students to be able to request appointments, as socially distanced "walk-ups" will be harder to manage.
"We are also setting up a process whereby parents and students can request an appointment with a senior member of staff if they are particularly disappointed with a result," she says. "This will allow them to discuss ways forward in relation to autumn resits, etc."
School two: Virtual pick-ups
Some schools and colleges have decided to hold online events for their results day in order to reduce mixing between students and the risk of spreading coronavirus infections.
One middle leader in the South of England explains how they made it work at their school.
"One of the biggest challenges for us was the technology side to the day," he says. "I'm not a Teams expert, so setting up open appointments so that students can join a virtual queue while also keeping it secure was a learning curve for me."
In order to make it work, the school had to make sure all teachers and students had the right training on the software.
"Our data manager had to make sure we knew how to post results on our portal," he explains. "We also needed to make sure students (that had already left) were aware of how to use the programme and knew all of their passwords to access it."
From the point of view of a student, the day will run in a very similar way to if they had been there in person.
"Students will be able to login to our portal and see results when they choose to on the day," he says. "Then a team of staff (including heads of department, the deputy head, exams team and the post-16 staff) will be available online from 9am."
Students who wish to speak to staff will be able to join a virtual queue and wait in turn. If they prefer, they can also speak to staff over the telephone.
Behind the scenes, there will be the exams officer and tech support on hand to step in if any problems occur.
Although timed online appointments might have made planning for staffing easier, the school decided to keep it open in order to best serve the needs of the students.
"We didn't go down the 'virtual appointment' route as fixed-time appointments are not wanted here," he says. "Some discussions with students may be simple and straightforward. However, others may be a long conversation, and you wouldn't want these to suddenly be cut off."