GCSE results day - tips for middle leaders returning to school


With GCSE results day fast approaching, it is worth remembering that it is not just the pupils who look towards this date with a sense of anticipation. Heads of Department up and down the country will be taking a break from their well-deserved holidays and coming back into school to see how the results are looking. With that in mind, we have put together a set of tips for those of you returning to school on August 25th.  

When arriving at school remember that the data and exam team will have almost certainly have been in all of the day before preparing the results and getting the envelopes ready for collection. It always goes down well to take in a nice collection of cakes to thank them for their hard work! If you are feeling really generous, you can always offer to help out with the preparation itself. You will obviously be desperate to get a hold of the results as soon as possible but remember that the data team will be under enormous pressure and hassling them for yours will not go down well. As hard as it can be, a little patience and understanding will go a long way!

Understandably your focus will be on the results of the pupils you have taught and your department but it is also important not to lose sight of the bigger picture. This includes taking account of the overall school results as well as those from other departments. It is particularly important to keep an eye out for any colleagues who are disappointed with the results from their department as they may well need your support.

When looking at the results, you may want to make a note of any specific pupils you want to watch out for as they come in. It could be as simple as a quiet thumbs-up to the child who achieved the A* that they had been desperate for or keeping an eye out for the pupil who has just missed out on the grade they had been working so hard for. Be mindful that all pupils will have different ways of dealing with the results, especially if they are disappointed. Some will want to ‘grab and run’ preferring to get out of school as quickly as possible whereas others will want to stay and talk with you. Others will prefer to be with their peers either to celebrate or commiserate. It is important that you let each pupil deal with it in their own way and be there for them should they need you.

Once you have looked at the headline figures, you will need to begin to dig a little deeper into the data. It is worth starting to look at how different individuals and groups of pupils have performed. How did the SEND children do? How about those eligible for the pupil premium? It is also a good idea to start looking at results by teaching group to see if there are any trends or patterns that you may want to explore further. You will also want to look out for any pupils who are on a borderline as they might need to be put in for a review. Once you have got beyond the day itself you may also want to start doing some question-level analysis. Most exam boards provide tools that allow you to do this online. By carrying out this level of analysis, you can begin to think about how you might adjust the curriculum and teaching plans for the pupils next year.

If the results are worse than expected it is important that you don’t panic. If the data looks disappointing, the key thing to do is to take a deep breath, find a quiet space away from everyone else and start to unpick what might have happened. Start by ensuring you have ruled out the possibility of mistakes in the results, double check that there are no obvious glaring errors that have caused the headline figures to be wrong. Once you have ruled this out as a possible cause, begin to write down some of your initial thoughts about what might have happened.  For example, did a specific class whose teacher was off sick for a significant period underperform? It is also worth looking at how any pupils who appear to have underperformed did in other subjects. This is not about looking for excuses but seeing if there is an underlying story that goes with the data. You do then need to take a step back and come back to the results in the cold light of day once the initial emotional reactions have settled. Keep in mind, that even if the headline figures are disappointing there will almost certainly be some successes to celebrate.

Finally, don’t forget to take a moment to congratulate yourself on a job well done. An enormous amount of time, effort and emotional energy will have gone into working with these pupils and achieving these results. Take a moment to reflect on your successes before your thoughts turn to September and the journey beginning all over again!

 James Bowen


James studied history and politics at the University of Warwick, graduating with a first-class degree in 2002. After beginning his career in the finance sector, James took the decision in 2005 to become a teacher. He was quickly recognised as an outstanding classroom practitioner and fast-tracked into a number of leadership positions, including subject leader, SENCo, assistant head teacher and deputy head teacher. Most recently, James was the head teacher of a large, successful school in Hampshire before becoming the director at NAHT Edge in 2016. He has significant experience of developing middle leaders within schools and is passionate about the role they play in school improvement.

Twitter: @jamesjkbowen