A headteacher on A-level results day: 'Worrying about results won't help. They are out of your control'

As results day creeps closer, Geoff Barton – headteacher of King Edward VI School in Suffolk – has written an open letter to his students. Whatever happens on the Big Day, he says, help will be at hand…

Geoff Barton

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This is a message from Mr B to Year 13 students awaiting A-level results this Thursday.

I know from emails and from seeing you around town that many of you are feeling anxious as the big day creeps relentlessly closer. That's natural. Everyone will be feeling the same.

This will be my 30th results season (my 13th at King Edward's) and – like you – I get nervous too. We all do: you, your parents and most definitely your teachers.

Our stress levels aren't helped because every year the press likes to whip up a brief frenzy of stories that can leave us all feeling spooked. In the past it was always about falling examination standards or about the near-impossible competition to get university places. This year, more of those stories are out there than ever.

Here's a sample from the education pages of The Daily Telegraph:

  • Schools raise fears over mistakes in A-level marks
  • 'Vague' school qualifications set to become a thing of the past
  • Parents 'making students feel worse about Results Day'
  • Leading exam board criticised for its marking
  • Name and shame exam boards who fail to mark A-levels properly
  • A-level students being 'stuck in limbo' for too long by universities as they face delay for places
  • University gender gap growing, warns admissions chief

No wonder this results season is feeling more nail-bitingly tense than ever before.

However, it's worth reminding ourselves that newspapers have to sell newspapers. That's their purpose. Stories like these help them to show that they are being topical. They whip up controversy. They gets people talking about exams and – because everyone has been to school at some point in their life and can therefore relate to education news – the reports can earn the papers lots more readers.

I used to get worked up by this and complain about it. Now I know it's just an inevitable part of the cycle of news.

I know also that there were reports this year of marking glitches with one exam board. There were reports about inaccurate predicted grades by teachers. There were reports that there weren't enough exam markers and that standards of assessment might therefore be in doubt. These have been especially unnerving for students.

But I also know that the chief regulator for England (Glenys Stacey, whom some of you met when she visited school last year) has said that standards of marking have remained consistent this year, even with the board that struggled to find enough markers. Ofqual investigated and confirms that marking is accurate. Ms Stacey isn't someone who says these things lightly.

And you can be sure that if I had picked up on any sense that there would be problems with grading on Thursday, I'd have whipped up a tiny media frenzy of my own.

So my strong advice is to worry only about the things that you have control over. Worrying about this week's A-level results won't help. They are out of your (and my) control.

On Thursday, lots of us will be in school from 9am to hand you your results. We expect lots of success. But we know from experience that a few people will be disappointed. They will think their world has somehow ended, that they are a failure, that they've let everyone down.

I know this because it happens each year, and it happened to me all those years ago when I failed one of my A-levels.

And what 30 years of experience has shown me is that if you end up not getting your first – or even second – choice of university place and have a tense couple of days on the phone sorting out new plans through the clearing process, then you will look back on this as something positive.

I ended up at a university I had never visited. It proved to be the best thing that happened in my education. And, like me, each year students come back at Christmas from their first term at university telling us that the unexpected change of plans has worked out to be brilliant.

No one believes it will be like that on results day this week, but the reality is that sometimes it's the unexpected events in our lives that are the richest and most rewarding.

So, Thursday's just ahead and now we need to wait and see what happens. If you get exactly the results you hoped for, that will feel fantastic. If you don't, it will feel briefly catastrophic…but then all will be fine.

We'll be around to give any advice you might need, or just to join in the celebrations and wave you off as you prepare to head into the next exciting stage of your life.

Finally, as we await results day, it might be a good idea to celebrate the many reasons we'll remember you as a year group – perhaps most notably your wonderful, life-enhancing Uptown Funk video.


See you on Thursday.

Geoff Barton

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Geoff Barton

Geoff Barton

Geoff Barton is general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders

Find me on Twitter @RealGeoffBarton

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