'They're punishing her for achieving': one school's A-level results day
Yelps of joy echo around the long, beige corridors; people run into each other’s arms and smile big, proud smiles. Later there will be tears. Lots of tears.
Kirstie Andrew-Power, associate headteacher at 12-form-entry Bay House School in Gosport, looks at me and laughs.
“This is just the teachers!” she says. “I can’t wait until the students arrive.”
I saw some of them on my way in, shuffling around the car park next to ancient Ford Fiestas, waiting for the school doors to open. A steady stream of teachers moved past them. They had a quick word with their students, then disappeared to get things ready – to get themselves ready.
The room is large, white, with two small tables at the end. A-G on the right, H-Z on the left. Brown envelopes and nervous staff wait. The clock ticks. Teachers huddle, discussing holidays, eyes on the door.
And then, suddenly, the room is full. Orderly lines. Results delivered. Careful assessments made. Joy, disappointment and the slight awkwardness of sharing news with friends. Teachers swoop to manage and encourage. They celebrate and commiserate. But most of all they’re just there, for whoever needs them and for whatever reason.
Charli (pictured below) has got A*AA. She is going to Oxford to study psychology. She cries tears of shock as much as tears of joy.
“I didn’t think I would get those grades,” she says.
Andrew-Power looks on, smiling but crying too. “That one got me,” she says a short time later. “She worked so hard but she really didn’t think she’d make it.”
Emily (below) is with her parents. She has the grades to get on to her course at Reading to study museum and classical studies. Her mum hides behind her while her dad tells me she’ll have to do a “proper degree after that one”. They all laugh and hug and the teachers look on with the sort of smile you get from a parent on graduation day.
For some the narrative runs differently. They disappear with teachers, or they frantically try to get signal on their phones. They pace. Friends try to console.
Three boys are in deep discussion: one has three A*s but won’t be going to university, not this year at least. Another has what he needs. The third, when asked if he is pleased, says “not quite” and moves away. A teacher follows.
Wave after wave of hushed reaction: no one wants to make a scene; the emotions are muffled. Teachers watch and judge the mood, spotting the need before the need is there, expertly managing each and every situation.
And then as suddenly as it filled, the room empties and the last few students arrive.
Olly is trying to interpret his marks. He hasn’t checked Ucas – he just woke up. And now his phone isn’t working. He shrugs: “We’ll see what happens.” It turns out later that he has been accepted to his second-choice criminology course.
Another student, accompanied by their mother, also has positive news. But a teacher tells me it is tinged with sadness, too. When the student goes to university their mother says she will have to move out of her flat as she will no longer be able to afford to live there. The reason? She's been told she will become liable for changes to the money she receives from government.
“It’s not right,” the teacher says. “They’re punishing her for achieving.”
There’s talk of a university closer to home being a solution.
As the last student leaves – eventually to enrol at the University of Brighton on an English course but for now to start a shift at McDonalds – Andrew-Power looks satisfied with the morning’s work.
“It’s been a fantastic culmination of all the hard work from students, staff and parents,” she says. “And it is a proud and significant day for the whole Gosport community.”
The school has achieved 88 per cent A*-C. It’s 2 per cent up on last year. But it’s not about the stats for the teachers here, not really. It’s about the students. They’re all here – office staff, grounds staff, TAs and teachers – for the students. And you can see in the way the students talk to the school staff quite how much that means to them.
Find out more about A-level results and clearing here.