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Results Day, reflection, and the power of ‘so, now what?’

Updated: Sep 7, 2023

Teachers, students, parents, leaders, all toiling away throughout the year to achieve the best possible result with a single date in mind: results day.

With the familiar mix of trepidation, excitement, anxiety and hope, results day will feel like a day which dictates a career (educational or professional), a journey or a lifetime.

Results day itself is unique in that it is one of very few life events which everyone experiences. We’ve all been handed the brown envelope, partially aware of the contents, but as yet unknowing of the specifics.

For GCSE English and maths students in Further Education, there is added anxiety and fear as students wait to see if their experience from the previous year is repeated. Just the fear of repeated (perceived) failure can be crippling for many of our students, limiting attendance, motivation, achievement and causing challenges with well-being and mental wellness.

In GCSE English and maths resit classrooms, relationships are more pivotal than anywhere else in education. Teachers and leaders consistently strive to develop positive relationships and support students at all stages of their studies, and beyond in many cases.

But as much as there is sophisticated and advanced work being done to support students, there is still some low hanging fruit that is not always being picked.

Often, the language being used on results day (in schools, colleges and in Further Education) does little to curtail stereotypes that results day is all important to life chances and lifetime success. Words like ‘pass’ and ‘fail’ are readily bandied around and do more damage than we realise.

Specifically at GCSE, these simple words often drive and fuel the fear that students feel, and so quickly become embedded in day-to-day conversation.

How many students talk about GCSE results in terms of ‘pass’/ ‘fail’? How many students, having achieved a grade 1 – 3, casually note that they are resitting English and/ or maths because they have ‘failed’? How many limit future career or study options because they ‘failed’ English and/ or maths and ‘won’t ever’ achieve?

The good news here is that it is so simple to reverse this narrative and support students through what can be a challenging day/ time. We need to banish ‘pass’/ ‘fail’ from the GCSE English and maths resit lexicon.

To start doing this, we need to support students to reflect less on the ‘what’ (the grade) and more on ‘the why’ (the student actions, past and present, which have led to the grade) and ‘how’ (their current feelings and the future actions they’ll take to improve the grade).

We need to start reinforcing that a grade 1 – 3 is, quite literally, an achievement, emphasise that students haven’t YET achieved the grade they want and remind them that FE is just the place to make this happen. We also need to back this up with supportive discussion and supportive action. Yes, you’re not where you want to be (YET), but you’re going to get there – let’s talk about ‘how’. Let’s talk about future action. Let’s talk about how you’ll be even more successful.

Of course, all of this won’t happen on results day. It’s too raw, there’s too much going on and it simply won’t ‘stick’ as a result. But we can set out plans to start the process – ‘we’ll talk about it next week’; ‘take a couple of weeks to think about what we’ll do in September’; ‘we’ll catch up during induction’.

The point is, don’t make results day feel like a funeral for some of our student’s dreams. We all see and hear the stories of millionaires, billionaires and celebrities who had car-crash results and these are always good to have in the background, but we must also remember that studying and achieving qualifications support the development of much-needed skills.

‘You didn’t ‘fail’. You haven’t ‘failed’. You aren’t a ‘failure’. You’re just not where you want to be. YET. But we will get there.’

This results day, take the time to remind students that, no matter their results, there is more to come from them.

To best support students, teachers and leaders in FE English and maths, The BASE Project has a library of DfE funded tools and resources to support all stakeholders.

For more information on the BASE Project, and to join the fully funded project, and how it is supporting students, teachers, leaders and colleges in the Northeast, Yorkshire and Humberside, check out our website here.

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