Didn’t get the GCSE results you wanted? Here's what you can do

24 Aug 2023

There is no doubt that countless British teenagers are feeling a mixture of dread and excitement for the morning of the 24th of August and the fateful brown envelope that awaits them. 

But, as with every graduating class, some will go on to celebrate their results and others might be disappointed. The Office of National Statistics reveals that, in the Summer of 2022, just 49.8% of pupils achieved grade 5 or above in English and Maths. So, you’re certainly not alone if you’re left feeling unhappy with your GCSE results.

It’s important to be kind to yourself when receiving your GCSE results, especially if there have been mitigating circumstances. Family conflicts, bereavements, and poor mental health are just a few examples of some of the challenges that understandably overwhelm young people at the time of their exams. Not to mention schools and pupils are dealing with the repercussions of unprecedented disruptions to education during the pandemic. Every one of the current school leavers will have had some impact of the pandemic. 

Results day can feel like the conclusive end to a long journey, but this is deceptive. You’re at the very beginning of your life with plenty of learning and growing to go yet. Friends, family, teachers, and youth employment organisations are designed to support you. So here is an overview of some of the next steps you can take to make it the future you want!

First and foremost: don't let it define you

It's easy to feel defeatist in the face of disappointing results. Instead, recognise that underperforming on these specific exams is not the end of the world and it does not make you unintelligent or any other negative assumption you might feel like resigning to. There is always another route to go down and there are people to support you with this. 

Learning from failure

What we traditionally think of as failure can actually be a transformative tool for self-improvement. Take some time to reflect on your studies and what went wrong. Perhaps you were overwhelmed with nerves on the day? Or was it impacted by stress caused from other areas of your life? Or maybe it was a simple case of procrastinating revision until it was too late? 

The good news is there are methods of dealing with each of these concerns. The NHS has helpful advice on calming episodes of anxiety, and supportive networks to be found with your loved ones, school, and youth services which  can offer guidance.Putting in place new coping strategies means you’re giving yourself a much stronger chance of avoiding the same mishaps in the future. This way you can be sure that in your next adventures, you go on to succeed.

Persevering and resitting your GCSE exams

UK law says that pupils who do not achieve a grade 4 or above in Maths and English need to resit these GCSEs if they wish to do A Level or BTEC programmes. These resits typically take place in November, so this path allows you to rectify the situation rather quickly whilst still giving you two more precious months to make the most of this second chance. 

GCSE resits for additional subjects outside of Maths and English are usually available to sit the following summer. Most colleges and sixth forms are understanding about resits and often it can be arranged for you to continue onto further study whilst you prepare to retake your GCSE.

The second time round at GCSE will likely be a very different experience for pupils. You won’t be surrounded by other nerve-stricken classmates also worrying about their exams and you won’t be able to compare your own progress to that of your peers. It’s a time to truly focus on your goals and act upon those pesky weak spots you identified from the initial exams.

Embracing a change of direction

If your original plans were to attend college or sixth form and you missed out on the grade boundaries, contact their administration as soon as possible because they might still accept you. If there are spaces still available on the course and you show initiative and enthusiasm by speaking to them directly and as soon as possible, things could go in your favour. This is where all the things you’ve done around school can help you – whether you’ve taken part in NCS or do volunteering – all the experiences that show your independence, positive attitude and readiness to progress can help. 

On top of this, there are other alternatives to A Level and BTEC study that will not require the same GCSE grades. T Level programmes, or established apprenticeships and traineeships are equally great opportunities with a greater focus on in-work training. 

T Levels combine 80% classroom study with 20% industry placement experience for those who might best suit a blend of academic and vocational learning styles. They also accept a Functional Skills qualification in place of
GCSE Maths or English if needed.. 

Apprenticeships and traineeships are designed to equip you with specific skills for a certain job or sector and are primarily hands-on work. If upon your reflection you realise that academic study just isn’t for you, an apprenticeship or traineeship could be where you thrive. What’s helpful is that these programmes typically include some small level of Maths and English as part of the course, so you can still conquer those crucial skills. 

Often these alternatives are regarded as less prestigious than traditional academic routes like A levels, but this is a myth. Rather, certain facts about Youth employment have shown the importance of vocational routes for a healthy, diverse generation of young people, all with varying skills and abilities. The Youth Unemployment Committee has even produced a report urging the government to commit greater investment into these alternative options so more young people feel empowered to take them. 

Appealing a GCSE grade

If you're sceptical about your final grade, or you’ve only narrowly missed a grade boundary that would have otherwise facilitated further educational opportunities, you do have the power to challenge this. Speak to your school, they can contact the examination board and nominate your work for reassessment. Do this as quickly as possible, ideally on results day, if you’re hoping to reapply to further education in time for the same September intake.

Asking for help

It’s possible that there are more extensive options available in your specific scenario and you just haven’t uncovered them yet. There are several programmes and resources available to help you - a quick search on Google will help you find the support you need. 

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