I start to get nervous about GCSE results about a week before they come out. I anxiously look back at the paper, obsess about particular children who could have gone either way on the day and have anxiety dreams that steadily intensify as the big day looms. As a Head of Department, I worry about whether I’ve got interventions in the right place, put in enough support for trickier groups and done enough to mitigate staff absence. And let’s not forget that it’s not actually us taking the exams – we do everything we can to give students the best possible chance to do well but on the day their success is their own and although it can be tempting to take the credit, we are a tiny part of each student’s achievement (or failure).
In terms of my class’ results, I try not to worry (though writing this particular post before seeing them does feel a little like tempting fate) They are normally strong as they should be after a significant time teaching; if you are leading a department then helping students achieve good results is a crucial part in winning the confidence of your team and convincing them that you know what you’re talking about. My results haven’t always been consistent though, particularly not in the early years of my career and I believe the way we reflect on our results is absolutely crucial in building successful outcomes in the long term: whether that involves unpicking a class that haven’t performed as well as expected, working out what went well in order to replicate it in future years or looking for opportunities for marginal gains in a strong set of results.
It’s not always a comfortable process. One of the most consistently brilliant GCSE teachers in my department is one of the best people I’ve ever seen at working through her results effectively. However good her headlines figures are, her analysis of her results is always focused on the one or two students that haven’t achieved or the question that isn’t answered as well by her class as others in the department. It’s this forensic analysis and brutal honesty that make her such an effective practitioner. She celebrates her successes but is rigorous in identifying where she thinks she can improve her practice for the next year. She does just that as well.
If your results are not as good as you hoped they’d be, the process of analysing them is so much more important than beating yourself up about it. Here are some questions that might help you to think about your outcomes and some actions that are going to have a meaningful impact on your teaching next year:
- Were the results what you were expecting?
- If your results are much higher or lower than what you forecast, this is something to think about for next year. If there’s a trend of being too harsh or over generous, this is an easy bias to identify and rectify for your next year’s teaching. You might find it’s more subtle and you tend to have underestimated a particular group e.g. high attainers or been generous in your assessment of grade 5 students.
- Ask yourself if you are forecasting accurately or using more cautious forecasts to motivate students. Be brutal – has it worked? If not change your approach next year. If we approach things in the same ways, we’ll get the same results.
- If your results are erratically inaccurate then find out which of your colleagues are spot on and arrange to do some joint marking or ask for a second opinion around grades you feel less sure about in your early September assessments.