A-level results: it's a family affair

For all families life can get complicated when you’re waiting for A-level results. Liz Lightfoot talks to Roberta Georghiou and her daughters Tabitha and Helena about how they coped with dropped grades, sibling rivalry and having a headmistress as a mother
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The Independent Online

Waiting for A-level results is hard enough for any student, but when your mother is also your head teacher it brings complications that can only add to the pressure. Tabitha Georghiou will have to move out of the family home when her mother leaves for work on 13 August, the day that schools get results in advance under embargo.

On the plus side, if things go wrong Tabitha will be able to draw on her mother’s experience of handling disappointment and putting things right every summer for nearly 30 years. She will also have the support of Helena, her older sister who went through the same ordeal four years ago.

Roberta Georghiou, the head of Bury Grammar School, says teachers are there to help, but parents too have an important role.

As250,000 A-level students prepare for the high stakes results, the Georghiou family shares their thoughts on what has become an August ritual.

Roberta Georghiou, 52

“A-levels have been part of my life every summer since 1981 when I awaited the results of my first A-level teaching group. Last year, when Tabitha, my younger daughter, took AS-levels, I was in the difficult position of being both her mum and her headmistress. I believe the student has the right to know her results first and disliked having to see them when they arrived in school the day before, but there was nothing we could do about it. We stuck by the rule which says no one can have their results until 6am on the day; Tabitha moved out and came to school to get them with everyone else. It was hard for her and for me, especially as I knew her grades were not quite what she had hoped for.

This year she has to move out of her home again and I’ll be in school with a big hug whatever happens because that’s what mothers do. I expect she’ll be up all night like everyone else, glued to the internet to see if the universities have posted confirmation of places on the internet. Tabitha is aiming high and needs three A grades to read law at King’s College, London.

Will she do it? I really hope so. I don’t think she could have worked any harder. Her teachers are confident and she deserves it but it’s a tough offer and you just don’t know what will happen on the day. It doesn’t make it any easier when you see headlines in the news saying A-levels have got easier. They haven’t. They’re just different. My daughter at 18 knows a lot more than I did, and has done a lot more than I had, at the same age.

In the run-up to results they need all the support you can give them, but on the day it’s important for parents to take a bit of a back seat. The young person needs to be put in charge, but that’s not to say you don’t love them and care for them and will be giving them a hug and brewing the tea.

The advice I give my parents, which I find almost impossible to observe myself, is not to treat exam results as the be all and end all. Your child will be fine. She may not have quite the grades she wanted but she still has all the skills and attributes.

The grade is just a paper endorsement of what they have achieved. It’s difficult when you have a child sobbing in your arms because they haven’t got the magic240 Ucas points they wanted [equivalent to four Asat AS-level]. Tabitha got an A and four Bs in her AS exams. It’s hard to say it doesn’t matter because it does to them. With Tabby we were all surprised at her grades, but she’s repaired it with resits.

It seems like a disaster on the day if you drop from a predicted A to a B or from a B to a C and students have to be reminded that these are still very good grades that a lot of people would be very glad to have. They may have to take a slightly different route to get what they want but in my experience they all settle down and by the time prize giving comes along in September we have the school hall full of happy girls who have got where they want to be.

If you make sure they have prepared themselves for all eventualities they won’t panic so much if they do miss their place. One of the things parents find really hard is that universities don’t deal with them nearly as well as they do with the students.

The student has to make the calls to the university to see if their place will be confirmed or to seek alternative courses. By all means, go onto the internet and see where there are places, because there will be places, even at Russell Group universities.

Telephoning or emailing the university yourself is not necessarily going to help and may actually hinder because universities expect their future students to be able to stand on their own feet.

It may be that your child will want to challenge the result, in which case she should get in touch with her teachers and see what they think. The request has to come from the school and I would certainly recommend it when the teacher doesn’t understand the mark, or the grade is way off estimate. We’ve had students who have been wrongly marked. Tabby’s GCSE history went up a grade when re-marked. It has to be done quickly and I can’t think of an example at this school where a university has failed to honour a place when there has been a marking error.

Ultimately, the choice is theirs, but you can help them to think through the reasons they applied for a course and identify the things that are important to them. They will probably find other courses which meet all the same criteria. My advice is to be your child’s keenest supporter on the day, enable them, but don’t try to do it for them.”

Tabitha Georghiou, 18

“I’m very nervous and just trying to put it out of my mind. No one is allowed to use the ‘r’ word in our house – I’ve banned it. I’m doing my best to enjoy the summer by keeping busy.

The awful thing is that on the day before the results I won’t be able to speak to my own mother because she’s my head teacher. It’s really horrible because your mum understands you best and she’s the one you want to be with when you’re in a state of panic. I’ve got to move out to a friend’s house and I won’t even be able to speak to my mother on the telephone because we’ve got a rule that we don’t speak to each other. She knows I’d be trying to decipher my results from her voice. If she was too nice to me I would know I’d done badly.

I’ve taken English, history and government and politics. Last year I did two AS-levels, general studies and maths and got an A and a B and now I’ve got to get three As to get into King’s College for law, which is a tall order. It’s very hard to get in for law but I like a challenge.

Helena is always teasing me because I remember getting 100 per cent in a mental arithmetic test when I was eight or nine but she can’t resist going around saying, ‘Five A*s and five A grades’, which is what she got at GCSE.

I didn’t do as well as she did at GCSE because I was a bit of a rebel at 16. I hope I’m catching up with her now, but who knows? Taking exams is like jumping through hoops; meeting assessment objectives and making sure you get in the exact words to get marks under each of the criteria. If I don’t get the grades I’ve got a total back-up plan.

I either go to King’s with three As or, if I don’t do so well, I’ll spend the year travelling and helping at the St Michael’s Children of the Rainbow orphanage in Malindi, Kenya where I went last summer. It was such a life-changing experience to see how lucky we are and how something so little can change someone’s life. I’ll probably apply for a different course, perhaps politics because in my opinion, there is no point in doing law if I’m not one of the best.

My mum’s a teacher and my father’s a university lecturer but they’ve never been pushy parents. I push myself, really. I just want to make them proud of me.”

Helena Georghiou, 22

“I’ve just graduated from Nottingham with a 2:1 in English and French so I’ve got results over with, unlike Tabby. For me, exams were a bit of a rollercoaster. I didn’t know what to expect when I got my GCSE results and when the school phoned at eight in the morning and asked me to come in early I thought I had done really badly. When I got there it turned out that it was for a photograph in the local paper. I got five A*s and five As. My mum was the deputy head at the school, and I remember her bursting into tears when I told her.

The next year I assumed I would do quite well at AS but I’d got a bit lazy and I didn’t do brilliantly. I got two As in English literature and general studies but two Cs in French and Spanish.

I was really upset at the time and was a bit worried about telling mum, but she has always been really supportive and she said that they were still good results, although she knew I was disappointed. She was disappointed for me, not herself and it was good that it happened because I hadn’t put in much effort and it meant I worked a lot harder in the second year. I retook them and got As in French and Spanish and a B in classical civilisation.

Of course, mum was at work on A-level results day, and she was so busy I couldn’t get hold of her until nearly 11 o’clock. I got AAA and a B in Spanish. I was really pleased but slightly disappointed with the B, as I’d set my heart on straight As.

I remember the relief. ‘Nottingham here I come!’ Tabby is trying hard not to think about it and I feel for her because I know how much it means to her. But I’m confident she will do alright. I think she likes to beat me if she can. You won’t believe it but she still talks about getting 100 per cent in a mental arithmetic test in Year 4!

My advice to people waiting for results is to keep as busy as possible and try not to dwell on it. If you don’t get what you needed on the day then put it behind you as quickly as possible, decide what you want, and go out and get it.”