Talking to your child about their GCSE results.

GCSE results day is upon us. Across the nation teens are anxiously waiting to find out how they fared in the teacher assessed grades. Anticipating the numbers that will determine their next step, whether that might be. And many parents are equally anxious about the possible fallout.

This is always a nervous time for many. As we all know, this year comes with the additional dynamic of teacher assessed grades. While some might see this as a benefit, others will worry about whether they performed well enough through out the year. And of course, it isn’t helped by media reports of “grade inflation”, seemingly undermining the results before they have even been received.

In this guide we’ve tackled some of the key issues that you’re likely to face with your teen as well as some guiding principles to bear in mind when talking to your sometimes temperamental often misaligned teens.

GCSE results day is upon us. Across the nation teens are anxiously waiting to find out how they fared in the teacher assessed grades. Anticipating the numbers that will determine their next step, whether that might be. And many parents are equally anxious about the possible fallout.

This is always a nervous time for many. As we all know, this year comes with the additional dynamic of teacher assessed grades. While some might see this as a benefit, others will worry about whether they performed well enough through out the year. And of course, it isn’t helped by media reports of “grade inflation”, seemingly undermining the results before they have even been received.

In this guide we’ve tackled some of the key issues that you’re likely to face with your teen as well as some guiding principles to bear in mind when talking to your sometimes temperamental often misaligned teens.

But remember, nobody knows your child like you do, you’ve got this!

Before the results arrive

When something’s important to us we all get anxious. Even those students who ought to be supremely confident and you’d think sleep like a baby can be wracked with nerves. It’s actually a positive sign. It shows that it’s significant and we’re invested in the outcome. The important thing, of course, is to maintain perspective. These results are important for all manner of reasons, but they’re not the be all and end all.

“I’m worried I’ve failed.”

“I know what you’re capable of, and I’d be really surprised if you’ve done as badly as you think. You might not get all the grades you want, but that’s ok. It was a strange year for everyone. Try not to worry about it. If you don’t get the grades you need, we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.”

It’s fairly normal to anticipate the worst. It’s like a defence mechanism. In teens this can seem very much like being over dramatic. Even high-flying students can express not doing as well as they’d like as failing. And right now this is the most important thing to students. It is important not to dismiss it out of hand (avoid telling them “don’t worry”). That said you want to contain any spiralling feelings of stress with reassurance. Demonstrating your confidence in them (not inflated!) can often do the trick.

“What if I don’t get what I need?”

“Look, I’m sure you’ve done better than you think. But if the worst comes to the worst, and you’ve not got something you need then we’ll be practical about it. The first thing we’ll do is talk to the college. They’ll understand this has been a difficult year. Let’s see what they suggest. Getting the next step sorted is the priority. The rest we can work out when we know what we’re dealing with.”

Calm practicality can be the best response to worrying about the future. Who doesn’t respond well to a measured plan! Also keep the focus on the important aspects which, right now, is moving onto the next steps whether that’s college or apprenticeship.  Again, it’s important not to dismiss the concerns anymore than fuel the feelings.

GCSE Results’ Day 

The moment has arrived. The email is opened (or other notification from school). Hopefully, of course, everyone is delighted. At the very least you’d hope there are no nasty surprises. However, it is not unusual to have one or two moments of displeasure, a grade that is lower than was hoped for. The key thing is to keep an eye on what’s important, the successes and more crucially, the next steps. Life is full of obstacles and setbacks. We all must learn to deal with them sensibly. Not the easiest thing to tell a teen.  

“I’d have done better in the exams.”

“That might be true, but sometimes things don’t work out the way we expect. The teacher assessed grades aren’t perfect, then again you could have had a bad day going into the exams too. You just don’t know. The important thing is that you move on to the next step and change anything that you might need to.”

It might be true that your child would have done better in exams. But then again, they might have done worse. We’ll never know. The truth is of course that there is no benefit in thinking about what might have been and feeling self-pity.

Some people can do better in exams than coursework, for example, but actually what this year has shown us is that the best approach is to give studying and school work your all from outset! That might be a difficult message to hear on results day. But education should not be about a race to the end and late-night cramming sessions. This might not be the moment, but it is worth considering what might be done differently for future courses. Not leaving study and revision until the last minute is a common one!  

“Everyone says these grades are inflated.”

“That’s just not right. You can’t inflate something that’s entirely different. These are your grades, you’ve earned them.”

Previous years are managed by exam boards setting grade boundaries after they’ve marked the papers. That’s how they control the number of people getting certain grades. This year teachers have based it on how students performed over the whole course. Sure, they might be more optimistic if a student fell on a grade boundary. But with all of the disruption in your last 18 months of school our teens deserve a bit of positive influence. It is absolutely true that more people will pass and get good grades than in an exam year, but that’s simply how it works. Exams are a moment in time snapshot. This year schools did their best across a range of evidence.

“There are massive increases in 8s and 9s, so my grades look rubbish!”

“You’re results are great, you should be really pleased. Try not to worry about what other people are doing. This year was always going to be a bit strange especially as you can’t really compare one school to another. The important thing is that you can move on to your next step.”

In normal years of course everyone sits one exam and so you can easily standardise across the whole cohort. This year that hasn’t happened because every school was affected differently by disruption meaning that there was no fair way of testing what students have been taught. Suggestions that other school have been more generous is unhelpful. Try to keep focused on what’s important. Besides, the numbering system is a difficult one to get our heads around – especially as we’re all very used to the letters. But in truth the numbers we brought in to split the increase in A* and A. So, a 6 might feel disappointing, given there are 3 grades above it, but in reality that’s broadly the equivalent to a top B. A great result.

Going Forward

In the face of things not going as expected or hoped for, it is natural to think about how the situation can be rectified. The truth of the situation is that There will be those for whom this is a matter of personal pride, but it really is worth keeping it in perspective. The GCSE are the first most important step, but for many who are considering A-levels and University they will soon become less important on their CV.  A sympathetic ear and a cool balanced head are called for.

“Am I going to struggle with my A-levels?”

“Everyone is in the same position. Your teachers will spend time at the beginning of the course to make sure that everyone is up to the same point. You might have to put your head down straight away – but that’s not necessarily a bad thing either!”

If your child is taking an A-level that is building on a GCSE – e.g. Biology – there is a good chance that they will not have covered the full GCSE specification by the end. If they are planning to go to a sixth-form college then there are bound to be a lot of different ‘gaps’ according to the feeder schools. Teachers are well aware of the disruption and possible disparities. They know what they are doing and will be planning the start of their courses to determine where any gaps may exist and work out how best to tackle it.

“Should I appeal?”

“If it’s not going to cause a problem for your next steps, perhaps you’re better putting this to one side and focusing on the future. But if it’s going to holding you up then let’s talk to the school.”

This year’s grades were based on teacher assessments. And exam board went through a comprehensive quality assurance process to try to make sure that grades were evidenced and awarded appropriately. There are of course instances where the school may have made an error (administrative, for example) but otherwise your argument in appeal will be that the teacher’s judgement was incorrect. That is going to be a really tough one to win. However, there is a clear process for appeal if that is right in your child’s case. But it is absolutely worth remembering that the odds are against a change in grade and grades could go down.

Where there have been grievous miscarriages, extraordinary circumstances, and where the result is causing an impediment (e.g. awarded a 3 in Maths) the process is there for exactly these situations. However, for many drawing a line under this year and moving on is likely to be the best course. This isn’t advocating a stiff-upper lip, it is about accepting that things don’t always go our way and that life is wiggy. That is a valuable trait for young people to adopt.

“Should I resit my GCSEs?”

“Don’t rush into a hasty decision, take your time and think about what’s best for you. If you don’t have to resit; ask yourself it’s worth taking the exam again. If it’s not going to hold you back, then maybe you’re better putting all of your energy into your next courses.”

Unless the grade was 3 or below in Maths or English, this is not something that should be rushed into. The major consideration here is that the autumn resits are most likely going to cover the full specification. There’s a good chance that your child hasn’t done it all.

These GCSE results are earlier than previous years to help students think these decisions through. Typically resits for GCSEs and iGCSE have an entry date of 7th September 2021.