'You never get to the point when you are not nervous'

17th August 2012 at 01:00
Results day is a trying time for teachers as well as students

Thousands of teenagers discovered whether their hard work had paid off when they collected their A-level results yesterday. While it is a nerve-racking moment for pupils, the publication of A-level results, followed swiftly by GCSE results next week, is also stressful for teachers, with both the future of their pupils and the reputation of their schools on the line. Here, teachers, heads of department and school leaders discuss the pressure.

Malcolm Trobe, deputy general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) and former head of Malmesbury School, Wiltshire

"GCSE results are very stressful because meeting floor targets can be potentially critical for the school and for staff job security.

"Schools missing out could be converted into academies, with more and more heads losing their jobs, even if schools are improving. It's like football manager syndrome.

"A levels don't have government floor targets, but as a head you feel responsible and relieved when pupils get good results. Failure to perform means questions for the school leadership, but there is also pressure because you know pupils depend on the results to make their next step."

Peter Kent, head of Lawrence Sheriff School in Rugby

"When I became a deputy head, results day became more relaxing than it was when I was a subject leader and accountable. Becoming a head was like going back to that; now I'm accountable for everything.

"This year it will be different. My own son is a pupil at the school and awaiting his A-level results. I've cultivated a professional detachment from results over the years, but I'm nervous like any parent. Teachers get anxious about results. You never get to the point when you are not nervous because good teachers care about their students."

Marcella McCarthy, advanced skills English teacher at the Cherwell School, Oxfordshire

"There is such a focus on results in schools now that teachers can feel very pressurised; they feel as if the results are their fault. I try not to feel like that. It doesn't help to be nervous about results. I want pupils to do well and they pretty much get what I expect them to get.

"But the biggest stress for teachers is the way grade boundaries move from year to year. This makes things very difficult. Our predicted grades can be uncertain and that makes us look unprofessional. We've queried the results of entire cohorts before and they have gone up."

Karen Cooke, head of social sciences at Haringey Sixth Form Centre in North London

"The stress of waiting for A-level results can take over the summer holidays. When you are a new teacher you think the results are all your fault. As you get more experienced you realise you've done everything you can. This year I'm going in the day before so I can look at results and identify the students I need to make sure I see or call if they don't come in.

"I try to be calm and reassuring. We do a lot of pastoral work because many of our pupils face challenges - some have been homeless throughout the year. These results are not just about going to university, they are about improving the quality of their lives. As their teacher that can be overwhelming to me."

Helen Rogerson, head of science at Westonbirt School in Gloucestershire

"You feel responsible for your pupils - especially those resitting and those who are working so hard but don't really get it yet.

"As a teacher your emotions can be great or horrendous. When pupils have done well and are really excited it is great to see their hard work pay off. But there is also pressure when students drop a grade and can't get in to their chosen universities. On the morning of results day I like to go in early and look up the grades on the exam board website so I can mentally prepare myself."

Louise Robinson, head of Merchant Taylors' Girls' School, Liverpool, and president of the Girls' Schools Association

"As teachers we care very much about pupils and want them to do well. We teach them as well as we possibly can and help them, but we know their performance on exam day makes the difference.

"But results day is always emotional. In my school, we've known many of the pupils since they were 4; we've seen them grow from little girls into young women going off to university. When they are successful you feel just as emotional and tearful as you do for those who haven't got what they need."

Mike Griffiths, head of Northampton School for Boys

"You are never going to stop the anxiety; you want pupils to get the grades they need. Results are part of the rhythm of the school year. It's not routine, but over the years you find you've seen and heard it all.

"Uncertainty comes when something changes, like a syllabus or specification, and you do feel nervous then.

"For a headteacher the results can be critical. Any decline could trigger an Ofsted inspection, but success brings great joy and celebration. In 39 years of being a teacher I've never missed a results day."

For more on results day, read Tom Bennett on the TES Resources website at tinyurl.comcxrmrd4.

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