Exam Results Day: what to do if they didn’t get the results they wanted

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Are you a parent feeling unnerved by results day 2023? Read on for practical information about everything from Clearing to alternative qualifications

It’s currently results season in the UK, with A-level results released last Thursday and GCSE results announced today (24 August). For those picking up that all-important brown envelope, the nerves are very real — but it can be a stressful time for parents, too.

Exam results this year were predicted to drop across England due to a government-enforced reversal of pandemic-era grade inflation. In 2020 and 2021, exams were largely cancelled due to Covid, which meant students received grades determined by their teachers. In 2022, there were a number of special considerations given to students whose learning was affected by the pandemic. This year is the first since then when grade boundaries will be back to the same levels as in 2019, which, simply put, means higher grades will have been harder to achieve.

Here are a few things you can do if results haven’t gone your child’s way this summer.

How can I support my child on results day?

The number one thing you can do to support your child is to be understanding and supportive. With the widely predicted decline in higher grades, it’s likely your child would have been under a lot of stress throughout the exam period. It’s important to reassure them that they tried their best.

It’s also a good idea to accompany your child to pick up their results, even though they may wish to go with their friends. If things don’t go as planned, you can be there to assist with phone calls to sixth forms, colleges, universities and apprenticeship schemes, should they be required.

What should I do if results don’t go as expected?

“It’s OK for your child to be upset if they didn’t get the results they wanted,” says David Morgan, chief executive at the Career Development Institute. “Give them a moment to let that sink in, and then look ahead to their next options.”

For A-level students who didn’t quite get the marks for the university they wanted, David recommends contacting insurance courses to see if they will still offer a place. If not, apply for other courses through Clearing.

“Ask them to remind themselves of the reasons why they picked their first-choice course,” he says, “and encourage them to look for alternatives that meet those reasons.” You can find out more about applying to university through Clearing via the UCAS website.

“It’s also important to remember that university isn’t the only option,” David continues. “There’s a good range of technical and vocational options available. Apprenticeships go up to degree level, giving valuable workplace experience with no student debt. There are also Higher Technical Qualifications, allowing students to go straight into work or take a year out to resit exams, travel or gain other experience. The most important thing is that everyone learns differently, has different aspirations and has many reasons for making their choices.”

For GCSE results, the process is similar. Contact your child’s preferred college or sixth form to ask about next steps. In most cases, colleges will do everything they can to place them on their chosen course or will place them on a similar one.

For both A-level and GCSE results, grades can be appealed. “Talk to your school or college as soon as possible to get a clerical review, checking marks have been calculated correctly and, if needed, an examiner review to see if your papers were properly marked against the mark scheme,” says David. “Be aware that grades can go down as well as up so you want to be reasonably confident that you should have been marked higher.”

In both cases, there are plenty of resources available to help your child. They can talk to teachers and carers who are a part of their school or college, or, if they would prefer, seek impartial advice from a careers adviser within their institution, or at the National Careers Service.

Is going to university still the best option for my child?

“Today, there’s a lot of pressure on teenagers to choose a career path based on previous academic success, with traditionally ‘high achievers’ encouraged down the university route, while those with a more practical mindset are encouraged to go on to college or an apprenticeship,” says Robbie Bryant, careers expert at Open Study College.

“However, there are so many incredible professions out there that don’t require a university degree: electricians, personal trainers and beauticians, for example, are all lucrative career paths that can be achieved through other routes, such as courses or apprenticeships.”

According to Robbie, there are many different paths to take after results day and, of course, it can be rare these days for a student to choose to study one subject, get a career in that field and stay there for the rest of their career. In fact, a recent study by Open Study College found that 78% of the UK workforce has a degree unrelated to their job. “We will all try our hand at various careers throughout life,” Robbie says, “and there’s no reason why a bad grade will not lead to a successful career.”


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