A Parent and Student’s Guide to Surviving GCSE Results Day
For many students, Thursday 24 August will have felt as close to Judgement day as they have experienced in their short lives. Tears of joy, tears of disappointment, tears of anxiety, and tears of sheer relief with months of hard work, sacrifice and escalating pressure eventually boiling down to a single moment of release; the moment when a sealed envelope is opened to reveal 9 or 10 GCSE grades.
At the time, it can feel for students that these grades define their self-worth. If they have done relatively well compared to their peers they have a bright future, and if they have not done as well as they would have liked it can feel as if they have let themselves down and their loved ones around them, especially their parents.
The reality is that part of growing up is to develop the resilience to cope with the ups and downs that life throws at you. There will be countless more milestones ahead with many more moments of joy and disappointment. The Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) said:
Amazing is the affair of the believer, verily all of his affair is good and this is not for anybody except the believer. If something of good and happiness befalls him he is grateful, and that is good for him. If something of harm befalls him he is patient and that is good for him.”
Ultimately, for the young believer, whatever results they woke up to on GCSE results day – it is good. This might sound like a self-help mantra from a motivational speaker but it really is true. When the young believer faces disappointment, it builds resilience providing they are patient with the decree of Allāh, and reflective about what they need to do differently in the future. And when the young believer faces success they are grateful to Allāh, who is the source of all good, and this only increases the reward, develops contentment and increases the good.
What follows are a few pointers to help students and parents navigate their way through GCSE results day.
Were the exams harder this year?
Yes. The government introduced far more rigorous GCSE exams, particularly in Mathematics and English, with a significant increase in content from A-Level. The style of questions were more problem solving based and there was far more emphasis on memory retention. This was a reaction to perceptions in the media and amongst senior politicians that years of improvements in GCSE grades must be due to a dilution in standards. It was also a reaction to the relatively poor performance of the UK in international comparisons of educational attainment.
Therefore comparisons of grades with older siblings are probably not fair.
Why are there grades and numbers?
Mathematics and English were assessed this year according to the new 1 to 9 grade point system as opposed to the old A* to G grading system. The grade point 1 is roughly equivalent to a G, the grade point 4 is roughly equivalent to a low C and the grade point 7 is roughly equivalent to an A. It is far more difficult to get the top grade point 9 then the old A*. Only the top 20% nationally of all students who achieve above a 7 are awarded the grade point 9.
The old grading system had 8 grades available and the new system clearly has 9 available. This is to stretch the more able students and have a greater range of grades available at the top end.
Interestingly enough, this change in Mathematics and English was not mandatory for private schools this year, the students of which will have an extra year to prepare. Despite already being from more privileged backgrounds, private school students this year may have a slight advantage to their colleagues in state comprehensive schools.
Has the way grades have been allocated been different this year?
Previously GCSEs grades were awarded on a criterion based system. Each subject had grade descriptors and whichever students met that criteria were awarded the grade accordingly. This year the country moved to a norm based system where in each subject students’ scores are arranged in ascending order and only fixed percentages of students can achieve the given grades. This means that in a given year, if the cohort is very able, it becomes more difficult to get the top grades but if the cohort is very weak it becomes easier to get the top grades. Many experts are critical of this system as it effectively pitches students against each other and discourages cooperation.
Can I appeal my grades?
Good schools will review all marks and if a student is very close to the boundary of the next grade up, they will automatically submit a request for a remark, particularly if the boundary is at a key threshold like grade point 4 or grade point 7. Marks which are close to the lower boundary should not be put for remark as grades can go down as well as up. If a parent or student feels very strongly that the grade they have does not reflect the work they have done they can request a remark but may be required to pay a fee. Results of remarks do take a number of weeks so will not return in time to affect college applications.
What if students do not get the grades they need to go to sixth form or college?
Conditional offers from sixth form and colleges would have been based on realistic predicted grades given by class teachers so there should be no dramatic surprises which totally prevent a student doing the course they want to do. Providing the student is close to the entry requirements there is always a level of flexibility so it is worth asking to meet the Principal of the sixth form or college to find out if there is a possibility of being given entry to the desired course.
If doors have well and truly closed to students for the course they wanted to do then remember that there are many routes into a chosen career. There are A-Levels, BTECs, apprenticeships, traineeships and internships. It might just require taking a longer or alternative route.
Can I resit my exams?
Resits can only be done at exam centres so students would need to find an institution which offers the particular resit that they want. Think carefully if this is really necessary as it involves looking backwards instead of looking forwards. If it is a core subject like Mathematics or English, a resit may be necessary and will often be offered by colleges. It is recommended to get careers advise at this point. Remember that students are officially on roll at the school until the end of August so parents and students can ask to meet the careers advisor or senior leadership team right up until September.
 Saḥīḥ Muslim, ḥadīth no. 2999