The first thing to remember is that this is big. A levels are significant investments of time and emotional energy. The students sitting them – and, in many cases, depending on them for progression towards the lives they think they want – have every reason to be utterly devastated if they don’t get the grades they had hoped for.
A-level results day
But the second thing to remember is that no one’s life has ever been ruined by grades.
Changed, yes. Ruined? Only if they let it.
So how can you help?
Be quick when checking out alternatives
If they haven’t got into their first choice or insurance university, they will be eligible for clearing (this could also be an option if they missed the grades needed for a higher or degree apprenticeship). Gone are the days when clearing was a bargain-basement route; degrees are a buyer’s market now, and there are some real finds. But you have to be quick. Clearing opens at 8am, so get logged on to Ucas as soon as possible, and get the student to start making calls, even if they are still considering other options.
Challenge the system, but be realistic
In my time as a head of sixth form, I have seen plenty of occasions when the re-mark of a key paper has transformed someone’s results. I’ve seen situations when a call to the right person at the right time edged someone into university despite dropped grades. But I’ve seen many, many more occasions where these things didn’t happen.
It is entirely legitimate to use every trick in the book, but keep in mind that they are unlikely to work. Don’t give up, but don’t give false hope either. If a re-mark means a student might get into their first choice, put in the request for a re-mark. But keep the student focused on the fact that the grade probably won’t change. They will still need to come to terms with any alternatives.
Remember that exams are generally fair
If a student hasn’t made the grade, there is probably a reason. Maybe they didn’t quite work hard enough, or maybe the subject didn’t play to their strengths. Maybe it was just a bad day.
But if they are contemplating any kind of resit, or repeat year, they have to accurately diagnose what that problem was. Recalling exam papers can help, as do frank discussions with the relevant teachers. If they do decide to repeat or resit, they need to have a plan in place to tackle the issue.
Keep a sense of perspective
In education, we can get suckered into thinking that everything hinges on exam performance. But there is a lot more to it than that. An experience of failure can be hugely valuable, as long as it is channelled appropriately. Offer support, listen carefully, show your love and don’t make excuses, but keep the bigger picture in mind, and they will, too.
Sammy Wright is a head of sixth form in the North of England