Now for the good news

If your GCSE results are not what you wanted, do not despair. There are many interesting options still open, writes Andrew Brown
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So you aren't happy with your GCSE results. Realising this is not a pleasant experience. Everyone has told you that these results matter. Now you are looking at the hard reality in cold print and coming to terms with the fact that they limit your choices. What do you do?

The main thing is to get your results into perspective. Over the years I have talked to many people who were in deep despair over results which would have had others out celebrating. The crucial borderline with results is four grade Cs. If you have got these, then you still have the chance of doing A-levels, although you may not be able to go to the school or college of your choice. For many people, four grade Cs represent an achievement to be proud of; if for you they represent failure relative to your ambitions, then perhaps it is time to rethink your ambitions.

This morning is a good time to decide whether your ambitions so far have been realistic. If you worked hard and you had reasonable teachers (be honest with yourself - did other people in your class pass?) then you have done your best. If you, or your relatives, expected more, then tough. No one can do better than their best, and the important thing right now is not to torture yourself with disappointment, but to look forward and start deciding how you are going to get the closest realistic approximation to what you want out of life.

Put bluntly, many young people want to be at the top of a glamorous profession such as acting or motor racing, or be an airline pilot, but we can't all be stars. This is not a disaster. You do not have to plan your life around waiting to be discovered, or on targeting one single job which needs higher qualifications than you are likely to get. Better by far to open up your thinking and review the alternatives. There are plenty of other ways to enjoy life and have a good career than the ones that you see on television.

Equally unrealistic and damaging is the assumption made by many middle- class parents that their children have to get "good" GCSEs, then go on to A-levels and university, if they are to have any kind of success in life. This is simply not true any more. With one-third of youngsters going into higher education, with heavy fees to be paid, the alternatives look increasingly attractive. It can be much better to start training for a technical or professional career at 16 and still keep open the option of going on to university later in life.

This advice applies all the more if you did not succeed in getting four GCSEs because you weren't really very interested in school. There is little to be gained by going back to school to repeat the courses in the hope of getting better grades. A year spent retaking GCSEs rarely results in significantly better grades.

Let's face it: if you didn't like school or do well there first time, it is going to be even worse the second time round. You may start out with good intentions, but within a few weeks, old habits and old feelings will return.

Training Credits schemes and modern apprenticeships have been designed to let you start work and continue to study for qualifications, so that you get the best of both worlds. These schemes vary in quality, so ask a lot of questions before you sign up. Find out how many people completed the training successfully last year, and what they are doing now. If you don't like the answers, go to another provider - there is a lot of choice - but if you like what you hear, don't hold back. There are some really excellent schemes.

Go along to your local college and ask what they offer, and while you are there check out the wide range of practical vocational qualifications. These courses can set you up for a career whilst keeping the university option open, and they are much more practically oriented than GCSEs, so they may suit you.

If you are training for a career, think hard about the job you choose. Any popular job, such as working in the media or becoming an air hostess, will be harder to get into and pay worse than little-considered jobs such as being a refrigeration technician, where you could be earning excellent money at a young age and have lots of options for going further. Be honest: which would you rather be, an out-of-work actor or a well-paid technician?

Contrary to popular opinion, if you are prepared to be flexible, work is not that difficult to come by for young people in most parts of the country. But remember, the first job is a lot easier to get than the second. Many employers are quite willing to give a chance to a young person straight out of school. Few are prepared to give a chance to someone who has worked a few weeks with a local firm and then walked out, or been sacked. So you need to be careful; but you can gain a great deal out of a year's work, even if the job appears to be a dead end.

With a good reference and a year's earnings, you could find yourself better placed at the end of a year than friends struggling with A-levels. This will be particularly true if you combine work with part-time study at a local college. You can take a practically-based computing course and equip yourself with skills that are useful either for work or for returning to study. It could be a lot more use to you than a slight improvement in A-level grades.

After 11 years in school many people are desperate for a change, and to get out and experience something different. If this is how you feel, then it is probably better to get it out of your system than to fight it. You may find you take to the world of work like a duck to water and want to carry on in your job. You may also find that after a year of working at the bottom of the ladder you develop motivation to learn, and come back to training or education with more sense of purpose.

The good thing is that GCSEs are no longer the all-or-nothing, pass or fail experience that they once were. They are important, but there are far more opportunities to continue training than there used to be. More than 70 per cent of the students at further education colleges are over 19, and people now expect to train and continue to gain new skills throughout their lives.

If it has been a bad morning, then this could be time for a rethink about your direction. Think hard enough, and you could find that a bad morning is the start of a very good year

The writer is manager of the faculty of business and general education at Keighley College.

Dos and don'ts after poor results at GCSE


get things in perspective

some careful thinking

think about what you want out of life

get professional advice

think about learning vocational skills which will help you get a job

find out about GNVQ, EDEXCEL, RSA and City and Guilds courses

find out about Training Credits and Modern Apprenticeship schemes

be realistic in your targets

consider working for at least a year if you are really aching to get away from studying



assume that this is the only chance you'll ever have

persist with unrealistic ambitions

repeat GCSEs because you can't think of anything better to do

be narrow-minded. Vocational training may suit you

join any training scheme before you have found out what happened to those who joined it last year

lie to yourself or others about how hard you worked for your exams

spend time moving rapidly from dead-end job to dead-end job without gaining useful experience or part-time training

persuade yourself that you are not up to studying