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A diary of the A levels and GCSE results season

David Baldwin, Headteacher of Churchill Community College in Wallsend, sets out his experience of - and reflections on - supporting young people through the recent exam results fortnight.​

Tuesday 11 August

Plans in place for post 16 results day. Agreed with curriculum leaders that despite the fact students haven’t sat exams, these results are theirs and they need to be proud of them, we could not have created their Centre Assessed Grades without the work they had put in.

Still concerned that the results that emerge for students will not be fair. On that basis I have decided to make sure students are well supported on results day, but teachers are not exposed to unnecessary criticism. I have said we will share the results with you but do not come into school, senior leaders will manage the day. I have communicated the same thing to parents saying that to maintain social distancing we ask parents to stay out of the building – that’s a far cry from our usual party and celebration approach – hope it works.

Wednesday 12 August

Results download. Cannot believe how long it takes for certain boards to share the information, good thing we started at 6.30am. We can see major variations in results based on cohort size, but the most important issue right now is to look at destination data. Head of Sixth Form has just informed me that all but three students have their first-choice destinations and it’s likely that by tomorrow morning some of those universities might have accepted the remaining three students.

 “I am reminded at this point about the excellent careers guidance and support that we have and the excellent relationships that have been developed over time.”

Our tracking is working and we already know who will need help and support tomorrow and who will be best placed to provide it.

I can see there will be questions about results, mainly with the students who have taken vocational courses – feels like a real disparity between academic and vocational courses at a time when these young people just need support and reassurance.

Thursday 13 August

Envelopes are ready, staff are briefed, “party” refreshments are in place. Time to make sure our Careers Advisor has arrived and is briefed ready to swing into action.

Students were brilliant with the social distancing and so appreciative of the support and guidance they had received. The overriding issue was, have I got the destination I wanted? They had, two further students got their first choice and we were left supporting one student. Meanwhile thoughts turned to what university was going to be like.

“Students are often more resilient than we give them credit for.”

Because despite the Covid-19 restrictions at university, all of those who were considering a gap year were realistic about the available travel and employment opportunities and were off to university.

The party started and we still managed to have a socially distanced year photo. Some students were disappointed that their teachers were not there to thank for all of their support.

Time to turn our attention to vocational grades and AS results, where I really need to understand our options for appealing, this just isn’t fair on our students. Parents contacting me to ask what could be done about the results.

Friday 14 August

“Reflected on the day and knew that the guidance we had given students and the work with HE had made the difference in terms of appropriate offers.”

I turned my attention to next week when I could see that with “large” cohorts across the board we would have many disappointed students and angry parents.

I knew we had made the right decision to invite year 11 in next week, they need that right of passage. So, plans for an Oscars themed day needed to be finalised.

Tuesday 18 August

Pressure has built up to mean the grading system will now be based on centre assessed grades but again vocational grades are unclear. Does this mean the invite to parents via Eventbrite to book appointments on Thursday and Friday may not be needed?

Wednesday 19 August

Despite “knowing” what the results are, the team are in school at 6.30am to download the results and again it takes all day as we deal with corrupted files and confusion over vocational results not all there.

“We finish the day with the golden envelopes ready for students, the red carpet laid, plenty of space for our young people and staff on hand to interview every student before they leave.”

That night we hear there are going to be changes to the BTEC results so we should not give those results out. I smile as I realise, I have written two letters and the vocational results are on a separate letter, so all we need to do now is go to school, open all the envelopes and remove those results. Simple, I wasn’t planning on doing anything else.

Thursday 20 August

Curriculum Leaders come in to look at the results and we clarify the youngsters that will need support and those that, despite all the odds, have done well and we need to get their stories out. Curriculum Leaders want to stay and talk to the students. Joy, the day is looking more normal by the moment.

A queue of socially distanced 16-year olds has formed outside school. It’s time to let them in.

“Finally, a brilliant morning with students rapidly understanding that these were their results that they had worked for and deserved.”

They stayed for two hours and thanked staff and reacquainted themselves with their peers.

They all received support with their next step from staff who already knew what their plans were. For those who needed extra help, Careers Advisers were on hand to arrange visits to FE and employers. But we still had 10 students who hadn’t turned up for their results. The same 10 that we had not been able to contact since March. So tomorrow we need to go around to their houses and not give up until they have a clear destination.

I feel sorry for those with vocational results pending, looks like we will have to wait until next week for these to be confirmed. It’s a good thing that we know FE providers in the area are being supportive of this issue as I advise another student to go to the FE college they have chosen and share their results and explain the gaps in the vocational results, they will understand, and they did.

As I reflect on the overall experience of results fortnight, I am able to thank my Careers Lead and Head of Sixth Form for the way they have ensured we have kept in contact with years 11 and 13. Destinations were known and back up plans were in place.

“The years of experiences of work and links with employers, HE and FE meant that the plan had worked for these students.”

More students than ever are off to university. Year 11 are clear about their next step. I wonder what more we can do for the 10 that didn’t turn up and I vow to find out who they are likely to be in younger year groups and be even more tenacious with their careers experience.

Now we need to turn our attention to years 10 and 12 who will need additional support to get back up to speed. It’s time to begin that long-term mentoring programme with one of our cornerstone employers to rebuild student confidence and reconnect them to employers.

It’s time also to rethink our strategic plan for careers, making use of tutoring and academic mentoring, but more importantly we need to ensure careers education is embedded into high quality teaching. Time to go and help those new teachers, I wonder whether the Early Careers Framework will support them to think about planning for careers. If it doesn’t then they will always have our Careers Leader and the administrative support.

“Roll on September 2020.”