You’ve all seen the images of bright young things ripping open their exam results and squealing with delight/horror. Like promises of terrible winters and predictions of doomsday, you can set your watch by the recurrence of the same old news line. You can bet that Steph McGovern will be in a college somewhere terrifying the life out of some poor student.
For a college principal, the day holds nothing like the personal drama of the nervous teenager. Exam results for a college are far more complex and multi-layered than the concept of individual fulfilment.
Background: SQA results day 2019: What to look out for
First of all, we want to see our own learners doing well – good results mean more successful students, simples. If a college is not fully focused on helping learners to enjoy success and career progression then it must be a very confused organisation. At Dundee and Angus, our full-time learners at FE and HE level achieved better than any other college in Scotland last session. So, the pressure is on to repeat that success and keep the achievement levels high.
If we dip or crash in certain subjects, there will be serious inquests at all levels of the college. Our board of management – which has overall responsibility for quality, after all – will be on us like a shot. The members of our board are so engaged that they know specifically where the areas of weakest performance are. And if there are no improvements or continuing poor performance, that is not seen as a problem for the department involved: it’s me and the senior team who are failing the learners. We are directly accountable, and so we should be.
For the teaching and support staff, some of the learners' nervousness does get through to them. Many staff will break their holidays and come in to see exactly how the results have gone. They know the personal stories and the triumphs and drama that make up each class journey to the results stage and they are desperate to see how things have worked out. There are many texts, messages and phone calls spreading the news from students to teachers and vice versa.
The next step?
For those who pass their exams and get their grades, the road ahead is smooth and planned out. But for others who didn’t get quite get what they need, a whole new world kicks in and our student support team burst into action. What are the options for each individual? Can they resit anything? Are there alternative course choices available? Should they repeat a stage? What are the financial implications? Would a career change be the best step?
There are no common answers. Each student is different and there is a myriad of individual choices to be made. Individuals need to be seen, supported, informed, and advised.
Results also have a huge impact on recruitment for next session.
Conditional places need to be confirmed, gaps that open up on programmes need to be filled. Many of those who didn’t get grades for direct university entrance will look to pick up a college route to a degree, and there are multiple routes. The last three weeks in August become an epic exercise in confirming recruitment, trying to hit targets, merging class streams, late interviewing, open days and university clearing. Programmes and class groups shift and change with the flow of potential learners until we get to as near a settled state as possible, and then off we go again.
Results day is, in fact, the starting gun for the next academic year. It is a clear signal that summer is coming to a close and we need to be ready to begin the process all over again.
Grant Ritchie is principal and chief executive of Dundee and Angus College