Until recently, if you were anything to do with education – teacher, school leader, correspondent on the local paper – then mid- to late-August prompted a sinking feeling.
It wasn’t just worry about potentially disappointing results. There was also the nauseating prospect of another volley of newspaper images in which smiling blonde girls leap into the air while waving their exam slips at the cameraman.
So what can we do, as school leaders, to unfetter ourselves from the results day cliché cycle and tell instead a more refreshing story? Three suggestions:
1. Know the local media
Contact the news editors at your local newspapers. Say what time and where the envelopes will be opened by students. Invite a photographer and journalist, or say you will be happy to provide some high-quality images of the day.
It’s the same with local radio. Here in Suffolk, I used to be locked into a friendly results day arms race with the veteran headteacher of a high school in Ipswich. We would compete to see who could get our results on to BBC Radio Suffolk first. It meant that I would aim to email results to the station by 6.30am, if only for the satisfaction of hearing West Suffolk triumph over the once-smug Ipswich.
This will strike some as pathetic. But there’s a serious point. Part of our role as school leaders is to tell the positive stories of our schools. Results days are perfect for this because the local media craves education news. So feed the media beast. Make it easy for journalists to get the information they need.
2. Focus on individuals
The day before results are officially published, ask your head of sixth form or head of Year 11 to prepare some case studies. Traditionally, the focus has been on the number of high-attaining students, but that’s dull and snooty.
Seek quirkier stories. Are there twins receiving their results? Are there students hoping to pursue particular courses or careers who have done well? Is there someone who has overcome adversity and achieved results that are great for her?
Have this list with you on the day. Nudge these students to talk to the journalist. If no one from the media arrives, have a member of staff or a handpicked student lined up with a good camera to take really good pictures. Then email them to the press.
3. Think of the legacy
I used to see results days as one-off occasions each summer when the holiday was put on hold, and term-time tension would kick back in before we returned to the catatonic state of holiday mode.
Increasingly we video students, asking them in a small room to speak directly into the camera to say how they have done. If they are leaving the school, they can thank their teachers.
These video booths are uplifting. They prove emotional for staff at the start of term, and instructive for younger students who watch them in assemblies. They demythologise results day and create a feeling that in a year or so’s time, that student on screen clutching a piece of paper will be you.
After 14 years of headship, I know that results day nerves never recede. Here’s hoping this year is a good one for you and your students.
Geoff Barton is the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders. He tweets @RealGeoffBarton
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