With the 21st August looming large, sixteen year olds around the country will be nervously anticipating their GCSE results. Are they ready? Are YOU ready? As with all results days, the best decisions are made when students have taken the time to research options in advance and think through all the possibilities with a clear head. But as advisers and members of school staff, we must equally be prepared to help them through this journey by understanding what may seem a very confusing system, and being able to suggest alternatives or great sources of additional information. Let’s run through some of the basics.
On the day
Students will largely fall into two categories – those who are satisfied, and those who are disappointed with their results. But even those who are satisfied may have some surprising results to contend with, which may change their original plans. Whilst many school will have requested further study choices up front, most will also allow a bit of wriggle room for those candidates who’s GCSE results encourage a shift of direction. Make sure you are aware of which teachers will be around on results day so students can talk through choices with them.
For those that are disappointed with their grades, the rethink may run a bit deeper. They will likely need reminding that this is not the end of the world but that they will need to be realistic with the more limited options now open to them, for the time being at least. Check your schools policy on retakes, particular (but not exclusively) with GCSEs such as English and Maths. Be aware of nearby colleges that may be able to accept retake candidates. Listen to students who are genuinely bewildered with surprisingly low grades in certain subjects. Administrative errors do happen and remarking may be an option (although candidates will have to pay for these) or if a grade sits very close to the border then a remark may just bump it up.
The question of what’s next is no longer as simple as ‘do A levels’ versus ‘get a job’. So complex is our educational landscape that students will need to think carefully about the option that is best for them.
The choice still most associated with academic ability A levels tend to be a good choice for those that enjoy an academic method of learning and that have received the majority of GCSE results at grades A*-B( with perhaps a few Cs thrown in for good measure). Students achieving below this may still thrive if they can prove passion for their subjects and a willingness to up their game. For science subject in particular, students should be encouraged to research options that fit in well with any university plans.
Contrary to popular belief, BTECs aren’t (and shouldn’t be seen as) the natural option for those who don’t perform well at GCSE. Quite simply their method of study, with its emphasis on vocational and real-life application, will have a strong appeal to many, particularly those who are not so suited to exam based assessment. It should be noted that a BTEC Diploma gained at the highest level will produce the same UCAS points as 3 x A* at A level. However, university admission is always at the discretion of its staff, and for very academic or competitive university courses, there may be a bias towards A level students.
Apprenticeships are a great option for the vocationally focused who have a specific career area in mind. This is a real job with relevant training attached (usually in the form of ‘day release’ at a local college) so apprentices earn while they learn. www.apprenticeships.org.uk is the best source to explore opportunities amongst the 1,500 job areas covered. Students should be aware that apprenticeships are exempt from the National Minimum Wage so initial earnings may be low whilst still in the training phase.
There is nothing to say that the world of employment isn’t the right step for students at this point, as long as they have a realistic view of the options available to them and appreciate that job search can be a long and arduous task. Opportunities are broad and will vary from entry level positions with local companies, to structured (and competitive) school leaver programmes that are common place amongst many larger organisations such as banks and professional services firms.
Extra sources of help
For more detailed information, you may wish to read through some of the following, or refer students to them for additional support and advice:
- www.studential.com/GCSEs/guide-to-GCSE-results-day-2014 and www.thestudentroom.co.uk/wiki/GCSEs_-_Results_Day_Guidance for on the day advice over issues such as resits and remarking
- www.schoolleaverjobs.co.uk and www.notgoingtouni.co.uk which include employment options at 16 years
- Careersbox produce a useful Results Day guide aimed at both GCSE and A level students which can be found here and contains information on both educational and employment options.