The agony and the ecstasy

3rd August 2007 at 01:00
Online may be the future for exam results, but some schools believe teachers have a role to play when it comes to the day itself, as Hannah Frankel reports

It is that time of year again when photographers start looking out for blonde triplet schoolgirls, ideally those willing to jump in the air with delight. But nowadays the triplets are just as likely to be ensconced in their homes, collecting their results online, instead of consoling and congratulating their peers at school.

Almost 30,000 candidates in England have opted to receive their results online this summer, according to exam board Edexcel, relieving teachers of their need to go into school during the holidays. But not all schools are ready to ditch the traditional summer ritual. All Saints Church of England School in Ingleby Barwick, Stockton, is an 11-16 secondary that opened in 2002, and this month will be the first time a group of its Year 11s have collected their GCSEs. To prepare the pupils for the real thing, the school decided to have a mock results day in January, handing out the marks from their mock exams the previous month.

"Teachers were sworn to secrecy to make the day as realistic as possible," says Ashleigh Lees, deputy head. Parents and pupils were invited to pick up the dreaded envelopes, which contained a report of all the results, after school, where the staff were on hand to reassure or answer questions.

"The sense of anticipation was real," adds Ashleigh, "and they responded as if these were their actual results. There were some who just picked up their results and left without opening them because they didn't think they'd done very well, some were in tears, some were jumping up and down and some were getting a telling off by their parents. I think all of them got a wake up call about how they would feel in August and how they had just 16 weeks left to knuckle down if they wanted to improve their performance."

The mock results day was such a success that All Saints is planning to repeat it every year, with some modifications. Instead of having it in the third week of January, it will be pushed forward to the first week to give teachers more time to work on any problem areas identified in the exams, although it means they will have to mark papers during the holidays. Future mock results days will also be combined with the Year 11 parents evening so that they can discuss the results straight away with teachers.

Ashleigh says: "The shock factor was good for all the pupils. Having a single piece of paper with all the results on had a real impact on them. We'll do this forever more."

Such innovative approaches are a growing trend across the country delivering a dose of reality to those who are yet to revise. "We did this on a smaller scale as an extended Year 11 assembly, staffed by key teachers," explains a teacher on the TES Staffroom forum. "Pupils are given results in an envelope and then we have a discussion about how they would feel if it were the real thing. Those on target also got a pound;10 voucher as an incentive."

But whether other schools will give results day a modern twist like this is yet to be seen. Many are instead succumbing to the emerging online alternative. Last year, Edexcel ran an online pilot scheme involving 10 schools in Birmingham and Wiltshire, which is to be extended this year to the rest of the country. This allows all 1.2 million Edexcel candidates to receive their results online, but only if their school or college decides to distribute the PIN numbers needed to access the service. To date, a quarter of schools (almost 1,500) have released the information, says Edexcel.

Among schools that are reluctant to release the crucial PIN numbers are those that value face-to-face contact on results day, especially so teachers can talk through options with disappointed teenagers. But Amy MacLaren from Edexcel insists that it is not an eitheror situation. "The pupils who have registered may well still go into school for support, but this way they'll have the option of getting their grades at 6am that day," she says. "There'll be support available online, plus a 'gradeometer' to show candidates how close they are to the nearest grade boundary, which may affect their decision to challenge their grade."

Other exam boards, the AQA and OCR, are now developing technology to follow Edexcel's lead, although they may not go as far as having their own MySpace page, as that exam board does. According to www.myspace.comedexcelresults, Edexcel has 42 friends, is not in a relationship and is a Gemini.

"It's all about communicating more clearly with pupils," says Amy. "Young people are much more comfortable with these sorts of sites and being online, plus there are lots of students who will be out of the country and on holiday over the results period who won't be able to pick up their results at school."

Not going into school is nothing new for Scottish pupils, who for the past 40 or so years have received their results by post, at home. The majority of Scottish schools are closed on results day, which traditionally falls on a Tuesday. This week, the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) received the results it needs to start processing applications, while electronic files will arrive at centres today, with the hard copies following on Monday.

For Scottish teenagers, this year's D-day is August 7, when results will drop into the letterboxes of 150,000 candidates the country's biggest postal delivery outside of Christmas.

"It's a big task," says Mike Haggerty, from the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA), "but it's a robust system. All candidates will have received an information pamphlet, which points them towards online support, but if they have any extra questions they can call our helpline, which is staffed by SQA personnel."

For the past three years, the authority has offered an additional online results service for pupils living in the remote Western Isles, Orkney and Shetland, to save them having to make potentially arduous journeys or having to wait nervously for late post.

This is the first year the scheme has been expanded to allow everyone in Scotland access to their results online. About one in five candidates will take advantage of the scheme, SQA estimates, which also allows teenagers to discover their grades a day early. Short of that, pupils can also sign up to a text service that will deliver results direct to their mobile phone.

But well before the anxiety-ridden day itself be it August 7 for the Scottish National Qualifications, August 16 for A-levels or August 23 for GCSEs this year it is hoped pupils will be well prepared for the next step beyond compulsory education. It is not unusual to have Connexions staff and local college or university representatives on hand to answer questions on results day, but it can be a strong incentive to be told by external experts exactly what is needed earlier in the year, when there is still time to do something about it. That way, when the results do finally come, there is a better chance those triplets will be jumping with joy

When pupils miss the mark:

* Be supportive: Pupils can panic when faced with low marks, but it's important to emphasise this is not the end of the world. Options include resits, vocational qualifications such as BTECs or OCR Nationals, work, a gap year or an apprenticeship. For more advice on all post-exam options, the BBC helpline (0808 100 8000) can provide pupils with up to the minute information about course availability.

* Re-marks: If you think there has been a mistake, consider approaching the relevant exam board and asking for a re-mark. Only schools and colleges can apply for this and they should aim to enquire within eight days for priority cases. This year's cut-off is September 20. Useful information is available at: exams-process120_153.htm

* Remember clearing: If a pupil fails to secure the place they applied for at university or college, they could become one of the 30,000 who benefit each year from the system, which allocates courses which are still available. A list of vacancies will be available at: www.ucas.comclearing

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