A headteacher's guide to surviving exam results day
It is time to pull out your results day bingo card and get ready to play: sudden internet failure – check; dramatic shifts in grade boundaries – check; impatient phone calls from your chair of governors or CEO – check; bragging emails from nearby heads – check; empty political rhetoric, media clichés, blind panic and an immediate TES Jobs search for positions abroad – all here and present.
There are very few ways to enjoy A-level or GCSE results day when you lead a school. The above can all make it a very testing and demanding time. All you can do is keep it in mind that ultimately it is about the students, it is their success – and trust that everyone gets what they genuinely deserve.
Because, of course, that always happens…
If you’re a head new to the process, or a more experienced head looking for some survival tips from another weary campaigner, what follows is what I hope is good advice.
Stock up on (chemical) help
I advise an early trip to the chemist. Stock up on a decent selection of sleeping tablets, indigestion capsules, hangover cures and Bach’s Rescue Remedy. Indeed, once you have been to the off-licence, too, there are several Rescue Remedy-based cocktails available – either with champagne for a good year or tequila if you need to just go back to bed.
Don’t jump the gun
Whatever happens, do not make any hasty conclusions. Every year something unexpected happens and with patience, and some time on Twitter, you can discover if it is just your school or everyone’s schools. That way you will know whether to blame the exam boards, the Department for Education and government in general, or just your own team.
Don’t get angry – no one likes it when you’re angry
Glibness aside, there is no real blame to apportion on results day. Nothing internal should come as a shock and the most important advice I was ever given was "do not be tempted to point any fingers". You and your senior team should have spent years tracking the progress of this Year 11 cohort – observing lessons, popping into classes, talking to students, analysing mock results, quality assuring judgements, tinkering with conditions, finding ways to help the departments deliver better – and so if something comes as a huge surprise, the first finger should point inwards. A department that delivered the best results in the city last year – and remains unchanged – will not deliver the worst results in the city unless “something” has happened.
Engage the media
Write your press release well before your results are known. Write two – a happy, glowing, positive one in which you praise the hard work of the staff and students and express pride at it all paying off, and another one where you express disappointment. Don’t write them on results day otherwise your melancholic, desolate tone will completely drown out any positives you have. Avoid phone calls with journalists, especially if you’re tempted to swear at them when trying to explain it is Progress 8 now, not five A*-C with maths and English…
Remember, it's not really about you
Ultimately, this is the students’ day. When the doors swing open to let them in to collect and open envelopes, you will remember why this is the best job in the world. Some of those who hovered at borderlines will make it, some won’t. All those who slogged their guts out will get results they can be rightly proud of. The ones who know they didn’t do the work, and slope in last, may have a surprise or two but not many. Even the toughest teenager will beam with joy when opening an envelope stuffed with success. Ensure you have make-up wipes and tissues for when phone calls to anxious parents are made. Remember to enjoy these scenes, share in their happiness, and leave the analysis for another day.
Keziah Featherstone is headteacher of the Bridge Learning Campus in Bristol, an all-through academy for children aged 3 to 16. She is also one of the #WomenEd national leaders