August, we’re enjoying the sunshine, the lie ins, the relaxation, remembering who our families are and who we are…but are we really?
For all its gloriousness August is a month of nausea for lots of students, teachers and leaders across the country. We’ve just about switched off by the middle of the month only for results day to come hurtling towards us. So begin the vivid dreams, the night sweats and the constant ‘what if I had’ scenarios we go through in our heads.
But whatever happens, we should remember that this is a day of celebration for most of our students. It’s the culmination of their eleven years of hard work and compulsory schooling in that single brown envelope.
Whatever our emotions, our students should be the focus of GCSE results day.
This year will be my fourteenth results day as a leader. On every rung of the leadership ladder I’ve felt the same sense of anxiety. It’s human nature and - like the students - I know I’ve worked hard for it.
We taught the best lessons we could; we all did more focused interventions than in the previous year; we tracked, monitored, targeted, examined, assessed and reassessed. We even rang students (and parents) on Saturday mornings to get them out of bed for revision. We stayed up marking and giving feedback on mock exams and essays on countless Sunday evenings so it’s understandable that we have a vested interest in these GCSE results too.
The senior leaders in schools I have worked in have all approached results day in different ways. Some had a more severe approach and negative feelings in the run-up to the day, others had a more laissez-faire attitude.
All of the schools in which I have worked have been in challenging circumstances and each of them have had one thing in common. In every one the staff are all battling to get the best out of the students to improve their life chances and give them the keys to achieve their dreams.
How this has translated on GCSE results day has been the major difference.
Last year, working at The Oldham Academy North as deputy headteacher for teaching, learning and assessment, we achieved the highest GCSE results the academy has ever seen; the best results I have ever been involved in achieving at any school I have worked at.
The Wednesday before (checking day) was a blur! Our data team had crunched the numbers and figures, we had checked and rechecked them… but they were correct – our students had achieved record results and we couldn’t have been more elated!
There was a point where the SLT were sat in silence in the head’s office: we had no words. The rollercoaster of emotions from the start of the summer break, to the nausea of the night before, to actually seeing the figures on the page, had taken its toll.
"Whatever our emotions, our students should be the focus of results day."
I’ve never experienced a GCSE results day quite like it. We no longer needed a group accountability meeting, nor any urgent action planning. Everything we had put in place: our actions, initiatives, ideas, the teaching and interventions had all worked. Our vision and values had come to fruition.
Our staff trusted us, our students had shown tremendous endurance throughout their courses; staff and students had been given the autonomy to teach and learn how best suited their needs and their classes’ needs. We had shown true mastery, this was evident through our results. Last year, our Progress 8 score was confirmed at +0.81 – the second highest of all schools in Greater Manchester - the highest non-faith school out of 10 boroughs.
However, we know that we have set a precedent, a benchmark to be measured against in future years. Last year’s figure is old data and we had to use it to set our targets and actions for this year. It’s a new world of education (again), with 20 more subjects now being measured with the new 9 – 1 gradings. There is huge uncertainty about how subjects such as science, history, geography, PE, RS, French will map on a bell curve of all students nationally and what this will translate to on results day 2018.
We won’t really be able to compare data year on year as we were able to in the past, until we have a few years’ data to really scrutinise and who knows by then we may have a new Government and more changes within the education system.
The one thing we have to remain resolute on is that the results are for our students, to ensure that they leave us ready to face the challenging and competitive world around us.
Rachael is a graduate from our 2015 Future Leaders cohort. Future Leaders is a two-year intensive leadership development programme for senior leaders who aim to become headteachers of schools in challenging contexts within three years.
She is also a current participant on the 2017 cohort of our Headship Programme (with NPQH). Our Headship Programme is an 18-month programme for senior leaders looking to achieve headship in 12 to 18 months and become great leaders of schools in challenging contexts. As an NPQH provider, we have an explicit focus on closing the achievement gap for disadvantaged children.
This article originally appeared on the website of Ambition School Leadership. In March 2019, the Institute for Teaching merged with Ambition School Leadership to form Ambition Institute.