GCSE Results Day 2021: What's it like for teachers?

In a year heavily affected by school closures, isolations and exam cancellations, we asked some teachers about their hopes and anxieties ahead of GCSE results day.

This year’s teacher assessed grades will be handed out on 12th August for students in England and Wales.

We asked four teachers to describe what it’s like in the run up to the big day, and what they want students to remember when they open their results.

Kemi Oloyede, science teacher

Anxiety is the word. The days leading up to GCSE and A-Level results day are ridden with anxiety.

The students have worked hard under the challenging conditions to prove that they are capable of achieving and/or even surpassing their target grades. Before Covid-19, the anxiety would’ve been near enough the same for teachers and students as it was based on students’ exam performance. Now, as teachers we know their grades are in our hands.

GCSE results day has always been a funny one. It is very different in mainstream compared to a Pupil Referral Unit (PRU) and I’ve worked in both. Students ultimately want to do well in both settings, but results day in a PRU can either make a student feel like “Yes! I’ve proved to people who didn’t think I’d achieve anything, because I was kicked out of school wrongly.” Or it could be “Those people were right, I didn’t achieve good GCSE results, because I was kicked out of school.”

Teachers in all educational settings will feel pressure, regardless of the schools they teach in. With the pandemic, the pressure is on and trickles down from those at the very top who run the school, down to our students. I’ve felt the pressure to get the most out of my students before they leave school. Everyone’s home situation isn’t the same and it’s been tough for a lot of students. Online learning was a challenge as students had to share a device with siblings when my school closed. Some students missed numerous lessons.

The impact of the pandemic has also meant that the students who were school refusers in mainstream, and who we finally had a breakthrough with in my PRU, became school refusers again, because schools closed and everyone had to stay at home.

In 2020, Centre Assessed Grades (CAGs) were the bane of every teachers life, especially with the algorithm. This year it's Teacher Assessed Grades (TAGs) and the guidelines as to what can be done or included hasn’t always been straightforward or consistent. Regardless, our students have shown great resilience and strength. That alone is enough for me to have faith that their future is bright and their GCSE results will not define them.

Kemi Oloyede is a Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator (SENCO) and science teacher based in Essex.
Michael Steer is a maths teacher who featured in the Channel 4 series Educating Yorkshire.

Michael Steer, maths teacher

Since becoming a teacher, I have never been able to sleep properly before a results day.

After countless hours working with students to help them reach their targets, it is beyond nerve-wracking as you build up to the big reveal, knowing that it has the power to elate and devastate in equal measure. I always assumed that it was the ‘not knowing’ that was the worst part, having to wait until that envelope opens to see if all the hard work has paid off, then getting the flood of pride for a job well done, or the gut-punch of disappointment if they have fallen short. However, at the end of this strangest of years, I find myself in the bizarre situation of having the ‘not knowing’ element removed.

Countless barriers have been thrown up that have prevented students from having a clear and smooth approach to reaching the end of their school life and each school has had different challenges to overcome in order to find a way to provide a fair and rigorous way to award accurate grades for students. This has involved an immense amount of collaboration and work from everybody and this has led to a scenario of ‘knowing’. I know what my students are going to get and I’m beyond proud of the way they have conducted themselves and what they have achieved, but it hasn’t made me less nervous in the slightest.

If anything I’m more nervous, because this year has necessitated even greater involvement with the students and I find myself even more invested. The realisation is that it isn’t the reveal of the grade that makes me nervous, it is the reaction of the student. You desperately want the best for everyone you teach and even if 98% leave delighted, it is the 2% that sticks with you.

I hope students collecting results this year are happy with what they have achieved and proud of the way they have come through the year. Use your results as a platform for bigger and better things, because we have all learned that you never know what is round the next corner.

Samantha Slater, history teacher

I am just as nervous as my students on GCSE results day! I’ve seen the exam papers and I’ve checked my teaching, but I still feel restless during the days before.

In most cases I have taught my class for two years. I’ve invested in my students, overcome challenges with them, celebrated their successes. I want every one of my students to succeed and progress onto the next stage of their lives with confidence. Exam results aren’t the be all and end all, but when you’ve all worked hard for them, I understand why they matter so much. I believe teachers feel just as much pressure as students and parents. Yes, we are held accountable for our results when we return to school in the new academic year. But the pressure we feel is more than this. Young people have trusted us and put their futures in our hands, we do not want to let them down.

I make every effort to attend each GCSE results day. It’s one of the most important days in a teacher’s year. It’s a day to celebrate the successes of the students I have taught, offer guidance to my students for their future and support them if they haven’t achieved the grades they expected. However, GCSE Results Day this year will feel different because of the pandemic. I already have some idea of what grades my students will be awarded because I have been involved in the teacher assessments. I have assessed and collated the work of my students that has been used to award grades. Before the pandemic, I had no idea about how my students had performed in their exams and the grades they were likely to be awarded.

I know that students receiving their GCSE grades this summer are just as nervous as those of previous years. They have worked hard for their grades over two very challenging years. But the challenges of the pandemic and school closures have enabled them to become strong and resilient young people who will be more equipped to navigate the challenges of their future. My advice to them this summer is not to worry about their GCSE grades. Like most things over the past two years, they are out of their control. Soon they will be able to make plans for their future and I wish them all the very best in a post-pandemic world.

Samantha Slater is a history teacher based in Kent.

Josiah Isles, science teacher

Josiah Isles is a science teacher and an Assistant Headteacher at a high school in Bolton.

Every year I feel a sense of apprehension and excitement before results day.

It is such a privilege to work with the young people in preparation for their exams, and the wait for their results is akin to the feeling on Christmas Eve. The feelings of anticipation are particularly poignant this year as we have had a direct hand in the awarding of grades that will lead to feelings of elation or of disappointment.

Dealing with the disappointment on the faces of the students this year will be particularly difficult as the appeals process may detract from the celebration of the learners’ progress after five long years of work. Schools will be processing all appeals before final adjustments by the exam board. This very emotive experience for students and teachers will need to be supported and explained by staff regardless of the impact on the students results.

The past two academic years have been vastly different to any experienced in education. The pressure on teachers has been immense and the use of teacher assessed grades has only increased this pressure. Teachers have been preparing assessments in accordance with the exam specifications, revising with the students, marking and moderating the work, whilst still teaching full timetables. The pandemic has shown how versatile and adaptable teachers can be in such adverse circumstances.

This has been my first year as Assistant Headteacher at Ladybridge High School in Bolton, and I have been amazed at the resilience of staff as they have dealt with isolations in school and in their own families. There is a deep sense of knowing our students’ personal situations in greater clarity which has enabled us to help them in a variety of different ways – a positive result of the pandemic and one which I hope will continue into the new academic year.

The graduating class of 2021 have shown themselves to be truly remarkable, resilient individuals and students. My advice to them is to refuse to be labelled with any negative connotations due to the Covid-19 pandemic that they have battled through. Their work and standard of education is not of any less quality than previous years and the results that they have attained have been earned, not gifted. When looking to the future, it will be important for them to identify areas for self-improvement which they can focus on. If the students have not achieved their expected grades, it is not the end of the world! There is always an alternative pathway.

I wish them all the best as they continue to make us all proud.

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