A results day to write home about

I have lost count of the number of times I have managed GCSE results days, but this year was unforgettable because the writer Jilly Cooper - who is writing a novel based in schools - came to share in the excitement. My senior management team and I had scrutinised predicted grades using every permutation of possible outcomes. I had my optimum prediction but decided not to reveal my thoughts for fear of tempting providence or Rex Edecel or the GCSE gods who reign in an erudite heaven beyond my reach.

Jilly arrives bearing gifts followed by one of my hard-working mathematicians. I tell the girl she has seven Bs and two Cs. Stunned silence. "Say that again." I repeat her achievements and give this girl, one of my pupils so lacking in self-esteem, a long, hard look. She tugs at her hair, blinks, smiles, and says: "Did I really get that?" I begin the head's homily, then stop; this is not the time.

"Will you think of sixth form and then university?" She blinks again. "But my dad's a boxer, I can't go to university." She wanders off in a daze, bumping straight into Jilly, who later reports that she has had a similar conversation - one that will stay in her memory forever - except my pupil tells her that she has decided to go off and reconsider her options. Hurrah!

I hear snippets of conversation from the corridor. Jilly and my senior staff are congrat-ulating girls and encouraging them to pursue their next opportunity. My next customer comes in. I look up and say: "Hello, Fatima, you've done very well." Then I do a double take; she's wearing a wedding ring and she's pregnant. "No, Miss, I'm not Fatima, I'm Shehnaz, her sister, I came here seven years ago. I got my degree. I used to work in human resources but I'm starting a family now. Fatima is in the States with our relatives and asked me to collect her results." I read out the one A*, six As and two Bs and confirm that Fatima really has done herself proud.

During the day I have my "wobblers" and my near-misses. One girl has struggled for months against Crohn's disease (a bowel condition) but still achieves seven A*-C grades. The queue subsides. The staff come in and Jilly sits with us discussing the reactions, asking about the girls' aspirations and destinations, sharing our hopes that particular ones will go on to sixth form and university. She is certainly one of us today. I should ask her if she'd consider supply teaching.

At home, there's an email from Fatima. She is delighted with her results, then knocks me off my guard. "I would not have done it without you. You always called us your girls. Well, I hope very much that we made you proud." Thank you, Fatima. Thank you, Year 11. Thank you, Jilly, for making this one results day I'll never forget.

Gill Pyatt is head of Barnwood Park school, Gloucester

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