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Headmaster Simon Smith offers advice ahead of A-level and GCSE results days

Headmaster Simon Smith offers advice ahead of A-level and GCSE results days

Rydal Penrhos Headmaster Simon Smith

As August approaches the lazy summer days are tempered, for the country’s 16 and 18 year olds, by the sense foreboding that comes with A-level and GCSE examination results days.

I sympathise with any parent who has to endure both should their children be just two years apart. This is the first summer in which I have had to wear the parent hat in readiness for GCSE results day. Up until now I have had that anxiety which comes with hoping that my pupils’ results are as good as possible but it’s not quite the same as the feeling in your stomach which comes with those that really matter – with all due respect to my pupils over the last 20+ years!

After all grades aren’t just a matter of pride they can affect university placements, continuation into the Sixth Form, scholarship applications and employment prospects too both in the long and short term. This year, too, we have the new arrival of numerical grades at GCSE as well as the first gradings of the reformed A-levels adding an even greater sense of uncertainty to what is already a stressful time.

However, parents and pupils shouldn’t just sit at home worrying there is a lot which can be done in readiness for results day to lessen anxiety and minimise the chances of suffering the consequences of any disappointing results.

Any school worth their salt should have already published all the information and advice families will need but just in case here are my tips for preparing for the worst whilst, naturally, hoping for the best.

For those waiting for A-level results, or equivalent, and hoping to meet a university offer make sure you have read all the necessary information on the UCAS website regarding results day and Clearing.

Go on the UCAS website early where you should find out if you have been accepted or not even if you haven’t quite got the grades required; this is becoming increasingly common as universities look to fill spaces.

Should your Firm and even your Insurance Offer be declined have a list of Clearing choices ready to apply for. More and more very good universities still have spaces, albeit for some less popular courses. If you go down the Clearing route be careful not to apply to and accept something you’ll later regret.

If there isn’t a university or a course (in that order) which appeals, then consider a Gap Year and reapply for 2018.

Your school should have provided you with a breakdown of your results. If you are very close to the higher grade boundary and your university place is at risk speak to your preferred university and request a priority remark.

Appeals are certainly something to consider if the school supports you. Across the UK in 2015 there were 506,000 appeals against results with 90,000 grade changes. I have seen, every year, a number of my pupils grades change from B to A etc. making all the difference to a university place.

Grades can go down as well as up but normally if you are within 1 or 2 per cent of the higher grade in a subjective, wordy, subject such as English Literature or Philosophy, for example, then it’s worth considering.

The key is to communicate with the school’s Exam Officer, Heads of Department, Deputy Head (Academic) etc. to get the right advice, fill in the forms quickly and the appeals will be processed usually with a few working days. Schools should have published their appeals process, associated costs, grade boundaries etc. and with a bit of luck justice can be served and despondency can turn into relief quite quickly.

For those two years younger the same methodology applies. Make sure you are aware of the timings on results day – what will you be told and when, who do you need to speak to if you need certain grades for a Sixth Form place or subject, what are the GCSE exam board appeals processes etc.

Do you have a Plan B for an alternative school if you are seeking to remain in a highly selective school requiring a crop of As and Bs just to remain? The fact that GCSE results are published so close to the start of the new academic year, usually with a Bank Holiday in the way, means you have to act even more speedily.

One other issue to consider is whether in the light of your GCSE results your Sixth Form option subjects remain the right ones. You have probably chosen subjects you really enjoy but a lower grade at GCSE might be an indicator that you will find the A Level a lot harder and so speak to your school about whether you can change options after GCSE results day and if so what are the options.

There’s a lot to take in and all being well you’ll be more worried on the results days about how and where to celebrate but a few hours on some websites and talking to your school’s staff, who contrary to popular belief will still be working in the summer you can ease the pressure and turn a difficult day into one which is far more constructive and in the long-term beneficial.

Finally, remember that academic grades do not define you as a person; they may open some doors or require you to find a different door but it’s still you who is stepping through them and beyond. I wish everyone, including my own 16 year old, the very best of luck with their results.

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