GCSE results day 2018: an opportunity for self-reflection

Aug. 20, 2018
Matt Brookman

Matt Brookman

Subject Lead at Axe Valley Academy , Teaching Leaders Cohort '17

We’re all nervous about results day.

In my experience, the nerves kick in at different times for different leaders: for some it’s straight after the exam, or if you're like me it's a few days before the 2018 GCSE results are due.

That’s not to say I don’t think about them all year long – I do that too. It’s just that after the exam I tell myself there’s nothing I can do until that fateful Thursday in late August, so I try to forget about them until then.

One thing I have learnt over my last three years of being a subject leader - and during my secondment onto SLT - is don’t look to assign blame. It’s much better to focus your attention on what you can change for next time.

This year I feel more optimistic about the forthcoming computer science results, and this is thanks to the evaluation I did on myself and subject last year. One thing I discovered was that I may have introduced exam questions too late as a regular homework (the course was only 40% exam) and this was something I wanted to change.

I made exam booklets for each topic and distributed them weekly using an exam builder tool. This meant that my students would have every computer science exam question my exam board had ever set. Every week I checked they were completed and by the end, only a handful were not.

I also changed how I did intervention sessions: I switched my sessions from one hour a fortnight after school to two 30-minute lunchtime sessions a fortnight. More students attended – and while this could have been because the sessions no longer clashed with other subjects – I felt it was because I had more buy-in from my students.

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This GCSE results day, I have no idea what mark is needed for what grade.

It makes me nervous when I think about the grades I have given students for mock exams and assessments. I could have been too lenient and inadvertently setting the students up for failure or I could have been way too harsh, putting undue stress on those in my care. Or I could have got the boundary predictions right – but I won’t know until this Thursday.

I’d really like to know the grade boundaries in advance; I think it would really help my students understand their minimum targets. I think that’d reduce the anxiety and stress students suffer from in the build up to the GCSE exams.

I also disagree with the idea that a certain number of students get a 9, a certain amount an 8 etc. Wouldn’t it be fairer to base next years’ boundaries on what the grades were this year?

But instead of worrying about grades, I’m already thinking about rejigging the course for next year and reflecting on how I can improve my teaching of the course.

I’d encourage everyone to reflect and plan on results day, using the exam analysis tools that your exam board provides on their website (if you don’t have access speak to your HOD or exams officer).

For my course, the board allowed me to compare my students against national averages, so I can see how each student performed in each question. I could then use that as a springboard for my reflections and think about other ways to teach that topic.

"Don’t look to assign blame - it’s much better to focus your attention on what you can change for next time."

I also benefited from joining social media groups. They are a great area to share ideas, resources and have discussions with colleagues from far and wide. The resources are especially important: it means you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. If your students are having a problem with one topic in your subject, I can guarantee they will not be the only ones. I’d recommend the online resources on TES for planning the next academic year.

My final bit of advice is a bit more time consuming: creating your own exam analysis tools for mock exams. I add all the students marks in to the spreadsheet, and then use formulas to work out the highest, lowest and average marks. This allows me to identify any areas within the subject that are weakness for the whole class. My students have also found this useful as well, as the more able will look at this and identify their own weaknesses.

GCSE results day is one of the most stressful days of the year, but it’s also the perfect time to re-evaluate what you’ve done and reflect on how you could do even better.

Good luck to everyone.


Matt is a current participant on the 2017 cohort of our Teaching Leaders programme, now called Expert Middle Leaders. Follow the link to the webpage or fill out an enquiry form to find out more about our two-year fully-funded training programme.

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.

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