Reflections on exam results

As this year there was only room for Years 11-13 at Speech Day I thought that I would use my blog to share the reflections I made on our public examination results for 2017.

This year over 65% of all passes were at A*/A grade – this is our second highest figure ever but to put this in context the only time we previously achieved this level was when the A Level exams were fully modular allowing students multiple resits.  This year in many subjects our students were having – for the first time in many, many years – all of their work assessed by a terminal exam at the end of the two year’s work – thus I think that it is fair to claim that these are our best ever results simply on the basis that so many of the exams were one take only.

Our % of A* grades was 28.3% – this is the highest figure achieved by any year group at the High School since this grade was introduced back in 2010 – again a really significant achievement and showing both the quality of our teaching and the hard work and determination of this year group.

38 students gained 3 grade As or better. 12 students gained at least three A* grades – another record.  In addition, this year 13 of our students secured Oxbridge places (8 boys and 5 girls) and whilst Oxbridge is not the first choice for all of our brightest students  we believe that there is no school in the region that was more successful in this respect. The same is true with applications to Medical courses this year with 12 successful in gaining places to read Medicine. Of course, we also had many students getting into their first choice universities with an amazing 80% being in this position and several others able to ‘trade up’ their choice of place following superb results.

When I set out our vision for the School to move to co-education a central part of this was the benefit that it would bring in the classroom.  Our A Level results confirm that this has indeed shown to be the case.  Indeed, the Times newspaper reported that across the country this year mixed schools achieved the best results – a ringing endorsement for the move that we have made.

Another central part of our vision for our move to co-education was to move the School into the top 50 of independent schools across the country.  In terms of League table positions these look primarily at the % of A* and A grades achieved and this year I was absolutely delighted to read that we finished in 35th position nationally – well ahead of all of our local competition (NGHS 137th; Loughborough Grammar 74th; Trent College 147th) and by some way as the top school in the region. Thus, another key goal has been achieved.

Table below created using results taken from the respective School’s websites on results’ day:

School Our results NGHS Loughborough Boys Loughborough Girls Trent
% of passes at A* 28.3% 17% 21% 18.5% 13%
% of passes at A*/A 65.4% 47% 56.1% 46.4% 44%

League tables can be a crude measure of school success but they are useful to us in comparing where we are with respect to the other schools parents in the area have the ability to choose from.  The top of the tables are dominated by schools in London and the South-East, much wealthier areas with many more potential students, but to put our results in context we are in the top six of all independent schools north of Oxford in the same company as prestigious schools like King Edward’s in Birmingham, Manchester Grammar School and RGS Newcastle and ahead of similar schools to ourselves in Bristol, Portsmouth, Leeds, Bath, Exeter, Norwich, Chester, Warwick, Solihull and many other places besides.

One final thought on the A level results.  I went back to the original entrance exam results for all of these pupils to compare how they did then with how they have done in their final exams.  If we look at the grades of the five pupils who came lowest in the initial entrance exam, between them at A level they gained 2 A* grades, 9 A grades grades, 2 Bs and 1 D grades.  Three of them gained three A grades or better. Even more impressively one is heading off to Oxford and another to medical school. This is just another sign of how much value the School adds over the years and just how effective we are at getting the best out of every student – at the High School dreams really do come true.

It is fair to say that at GCSE level I was concerned as to what picture might emerge following some modest mock exam results but I need not have worried and I am delighted to report that we had our best year since 2013. This year an impressive 74.2% of all of our passes were at A* or A grade and almost 48% at A* grade alone. For almost half of all subjects taken to be passed at the highest grade is simply stunning so well done to all of you in last year’s Year 11.  29 pupils (10 more than last year) gained a full set of A* and A grades and nine gained a full set of A* grades. Amongst all the fantastic success we have had this year one factor stands out for me and that is the progress made by some of our GCSE students.  It is fair to say that there were a few in this year group that had a great deal to do after their mocks but thanks to their hard work, the support of their families and the structured support given by so many of our staff so many of them were able to pull their grades up.  There were a few that had originally only been offered provisional places when they joined in Year 7 who were able to secure really positive results and thus will be returning for the Sixth Form.  Education is all about getting the best out of each individual and for many of us on the staff it is these stories of remarkable added value delivered by the school that we find most rewarding.

In terms of the GCSE League tables we again finished as the strongest school in the area and in a very pleasing 74th place nationally – again placing us as the top school in the area.  We were particularly delighted with the progress that many individuals made between the mock exams and the final exams.


Exam pressures

As we move into the Summer Term and the peak season for public examinations we are very aware as a school of the importance of supporting our students through this stressful time.  In my view, key to this is a successful partnership of parents, pupils and teachers.  It is very easy for us as adults to under-estimate the pressures that young people are under.  Much of this pressure actually emanates from adults – from parents who are understandably anxious to want their children to do their best and from schools who are under constant monitoring by external bodies such as OFSTED.  Exams these days are high stakes and come thick and fast over the final three years of any students school career.

So how can we help children cope with the many pressures?  In the main it is down to the School to ensure that pupils are as well-prepared as possible for the forthcoming exams.  Teachers in my own school, like in so many others, put on regular lunchtime clinic sessions and also run occasional sessions in the holidays just to ensure that we are building the confidence of our students.  Of course, the students themselves must buy into all this both by turning up to these extra sessions but also by working their way through a systematic programme of revision.  It can help if students discuss their revision plans with their pastoral staff so that they can learn how best to structure such revision and to check that it is realistic in its demands on a daily basis.  It is very important that there are regular gaps for some time off, that it allows for the fact that teenagers like (and need) to sleep in during school holiday periods and that there is time for some fresh air and exercise by way of balance.

Parents need to tread carefully at exam time.  We are as parents very well aware of just how important public examinations are but at this stressful time of the year we need to be there really just to keep morale up, to help in any ways that our children need and to remain calm.  In my experience adding to the pressures felt by teenage children is rarely helpful.  However, for some children it can help if you can work with them to devise a timetable for their revision, to help test them on some of the material and to make endless snacks to keep their morale up.  It is important for all adults to realise that children may well not work most effectively copying the way that you used to revise for your exams.  Some children really will work harder if they have music on, they are used to both working and keeping on top of their social media profiles and these are probably battles not best fought at exam time.

Parents though must also be realistic.  It is rare that students out-perform expectations at exam times.  They will, all being well, receive the grade that they deserve but this will not be a top grade in every case.  If parents feel that their children are under undue levels of pressure they should always alert the School – sometimes sensible advice is best dispensed by those you are not related to!  Above all, parents must not give any impression that their love for their child is in any way dependent on performance.  This really is a time to praise their effort rather than their attainment.  It is important that children are not placed under any greater strain by their parents.  You can best help by encouraging them to laugh, to smile, to take exercise, to rest and to stick to their plan which hopefully you can have agreed with them in advance.  Buying some chocolate can also help! It does not help to keep questioning the number of hours they are doing, nor to be suggesting that others are doing more work or worst of all that you worked much harder for your own exams.

Students though must also open up at this important time.  If they are worried about how things are going they need to talk to their parents or to their teachers at school.  Many schools have excellent counselling services that they can also draw upon.  Students in my experience are very well aware of how important the exams are but are sometimes daunted by the level of expectations that they face.  Talking to a caring adult can certainly help and yet we all find it difficult to ask for help when we are struggling.  This is why all adults have a duty of care to keep an eye on things and to initiate these conversations.

In the end it is almost always the case that most students gain the results that their efforts over the course that they have studied deserve.  There is a long summer holiday to look forward to so the next two months or so must be just seen as a period to give yourself every chance of success.  Sporting analogies can help here – the revision must be seen as the inevitable training before the big match/race – very necessary, sometimes painful but important in giving yourself the best chance in the main event.  If you are well-prepared, well-rested and have been able with parental support to retain a sense of perspective about it all you will likely fulfil your potential.  If, on the other hand, you do no training/revision and just turn up and hope for the best it is likely to end in disappointment.

I wish all those studying for their exams all the very best.  To all the parents reading please try to remain calm and concentrate on keeping your child in a very positive frame of mind and finally a huge thank you to all the teachers who give so freely of their time to support every stage of this process and who so often go the extra mile in helping out even their most challenging students.  Together we can all do this….