The recent headlines around exam results haven’t exactly been encouraging.
This year has presented its own set of unique challenges. The examination process has undergone a very big and very quick overhaul in response to the global pandemic. Standard procedures have been thrown out the window and students, teachers, parents and carers are still trying to figure out where the goalposts have ended up. With apologies from the Education Secretary before students even collected their results, warnings from teachers that the new system is unfair, and Scotland’s First Minister acknowledging that they bungled their approach does not fill us with confidence. The affect this has on young people, both on their prospects for the future and their emotional state, is profound.
Results Day can be a very stressful experience for young people. Their entire education is geared up towards the exams at the end of it. Right from the start it’s been drilled into them how important it is to do well and the implications that their grades will have on their future. And, because the entire process this year is mired in uncertainty and controversy, it has magnified student stress levels.
Despite assurances from the government that students are to be awarded grades that will enable them to pursue the ‘destination they deserve’, we have been left with a system that favours those from privilege and disproportionately affects those from disadvantaged areas. This leaves students in a state of uncertainty and it isn’t something that simply affects them on Results Day, but filters down as they move forwards with their lives. For those in care who already face high levels of disruption this can be particularly challenging.
This backdrop is something you’re well versed in by now if you’re caring for a young person going through this process. For those who do well on Results Day (and hopefully this includes those in your family!) it’s a time of celebration. Nestled alongside their success might be concerns about ‘what comes next’. For those who haven’t got the grades they were hoping for, it can feel like the end of the world. In both cases, it’s helpful to draw out the positives and get them to focus on actions that will take them forward.
Failing an exam is a hard life lesson for any young person. Nobody likes to think that they haven’t done well at something – but once they’ve received that envelope the proof is there in black and white. It’s important to not rush into any decision and weigh the pros and cons carefully, so encourage them to take some breathing space and thinking time to better understand how they are feeling. The emotional backlash that comes with any kind of disappointment often changes the lens we look through and can make it hard to view a situation with clarity or perspective. If a young person is struggling to do this then it can be helpful to have an external pair of eyes assess the situation and help them map out another route forwards.
The option to appeal remains open until the 18th September, although those applying for university will have to move a little more quickly as UCAS admissions are open until the 7th September. Due to the nature of the current circumstances it is worth talking to the school about this, if you haven’t already done so. The average remarking period is usually 22 days, but with the unprecedented disruption this year we might see some delays to this. There is also the option to resit; these will be held in October for A Levels and November for GCSEs.
At all stages it is important to prioritize the emotional wellbeing of your young person. When we fail it’s hard not to take it personally! We see both ourselves and our failure as being one and the same, which can fracture self-esteem. The reality, of course, is very different. Just because we have failed does not make us a failure. Moving to this point is tricky and conversations about failure, what they can learn from it, and how they can get themselves back on track can be very powerful.
Uncertainty doesn’t stop on exam day. Young people are set to be the worst affected by the global pandemic. They aren’t oblivious to the fact that we are heading towards another recession, nor are they unaware of the unpredictability of the current jobs market. For many children in care, being in education has been the one ‘known’ that has provided routine and consistency.
Reaching this crossroads in their life often raises more questions than answers. Taking that step into the unknown, whether that’s continuing with education or entering the world of work, throws us out of our comfort zone. Even those who have achieved great grades and have plans in place can question what their future looks like, whether they are making the right choices, and where they go from here. And when the goalposts get changed, when we’re thrown a curveball or have to fight for every resource and opportunity, we often see a correlating lack of motivation.
SO WHAT CAN WE DO ABOUT IT?
Whatever grade your young person gets there is always going to be uncertainty over the next steps. You know they are not the sum of their grades. They are a wonderful person with so much value to give, and it’s important to help them recognise this, and make them aware that they do not have to make this journey alone.