Joy, jubilation and parental hankies: On the front line of GCSE result celebrations

‘This year group has been hit really hard by Covid – they have not had leaving days or proms – but at least, academically speaking, they have not been held back by this,’ proud executive principal tells Colin Drury

Thursday 20 August 2020 19:37 BST
Secondary school students celebrate their GCSE results on Thursday
Secondary school students celebrate their GCSE results on Thursday (EPA)

The first students turned up just before 9am and kept coming all morning, a 50-50 mix of anxiety and excitement. How are you feeling, one was asked.

“Better,” she answered deadpan, “when this is all over.”

GCSE results day at Outwood Academy Valley in the Nottinghamshire town of Worksop and, if the mood of pupils on arrival was one of nerves, most left beaming. Joy, jubilation and the odd parental hankie were the order of the day here.

In an age of social distancing, hugs may not have been allowed but not even coronavirus restrictions – nor indeed, an education system apparently in meltdown – could dampen spirits as pupil after pupil opened their all-important envelopes and found, it seems, a bright future awaiting.

“So happy,” one student, Alice Gill, told The Independent, having knocked out six 9s and a couple of 8s – the equivalent, in old money, of a whole lot of A*s. “I said in January this was going to be the biggest year of my life. And, to be fair, it has been. Just not in the way I thought. But getting these grades ... I’m trying not to smile too much but I am pretty delighted.”

This is not how it might have been, of course.

A government U-turn on Monday meant pupils received, in most cases, results estimated by their teachers rather than calculated by regulator Ofqual using an algorithm.

It meant that last week’s A-Level chaos – where thousands of students from disadvantaged backgrounds were given grades below what they had been predicted – was not repeated again.

The consequence of the shift, it has now emerged, has been massive grade inflation for this year’s 550,000-strong GCSE cohort.

But, in the sun outside Outwood – a 1,500-pupil school where 40 per cent of A-levels had been downgraded the previous week – the main immediate consequence was much euphoria and the occasional jiggle. And that was just from principal David Cavill.

Alice: ‘Your teachers know what you deserve better than an algorithm, don’t they?’

“I was quite nervous after what happened with A-levels because I’d worked hard,” says Alice, who will now study English, psychology and geography at sixth form. “But when they said they were using predicted grades on Monday, I was pretty relieved. Your teachers know what you deserve better than an algorithm, don’t they?”

She herself had not planned on revising for January’s mock exams, which, ultimately, informed those teacher estimates.

“But my mum said ‘You never know what might happen’, so I did do quite a bit of work in the end,” she explains before a brief pause. “Although I don’t think mum was predicting a global pandemic or anything.”

Her achievement, it should be said, is not to be underestimated – not least because, whatever the picture nationally, there was no hyper-grade inflation here at Outwood.

Last year, some 83 per cent of pupils at the school – where a fifth of pupils are eligible for free school meals – achieved grade 4 and above in English and maths. This year, the corresponding figure was 84 per cent.

Outwood Grange Academies Trust – the charity which runs the place along with 31 other centres – says it has devised a system to give pupils the grades they deserved while ensuring there was no major leap on last year’s overall performance. It did so by standardising assessment across all its schools and having initial grade estimates moderated by external staff.

The system, it is worth saying, does not involve an algorithm.

Luke got all 9s and one 8 – which he put down to not ‘getting poetry’

In any case, whatever the method used, back in the yard, Luke Annals was happy enough with his own results.

How had he done? “Alright,” he told The Independent. “Alright”, as it turned out, meant all 9s apart from a single 8 in English literature. What went wrong there? He doesn’t like poetry. “I don’t really get it,” he said.

The whole family had come along for the big day. “He’s brainier than he looks,” noted dad, Lee, a Sainsbury’s worker.

“I’m so proud,” added grandma Viv. “But I’ve promised myself I won’t cry.” It was a battle she was in danger of losing.

Luke himself was taking the news all in stride. “It’s got me into post-16 [education] which is the main thing,” he said. “After that, I don’t know what I’ll do. Maybe university?”

Rory said he would have quite liked to have sat exams: ‘I think it would have been a greater sense of achievement somehow’

More definite about his future was Rory Gaddis. “I want to be a journalist,” he said. “I like writing and I’m pretty nosey.”

He’d achieved the grades he hoped for – one 9, one 8, two 7s and four 6s – and was already looking forward to sixth form.

“I’m pretty chuffed,” he said. “Although I’d have sort of liked to have done exams. I think it would have been a greater sense of achievement somehow. Although, obviously, I might have ended up failing them so.”

Just as chuffed about her own results was Morgan Elshaw.

Still just 15, she has had to have the majority of the last two years off school after requiring spinal fusion surgery – but still rocked away with five 9s. How did she do it? “Hard work, perseverance, a lot of time working at home,” she beamed. “I hoped I’d do okay but could never have imagined doing this well.”

Morgan, who has had to have two years off school due to a medical condition, achieved five 9s

In the background, mum Melanie was in tears.

“It’s been a terrific day,” said Dr Phil Smith, executive principal of the school, as the courtyard started to grow quiet towards early afternoon.

“Students have got the results they have worked for and that they have deserved. This year group has been hit really hard by Covid – they have not had leaving days or proms or anything like that – but at least, academically speaking, they have not been held back by this. Their futures are as bright as ever.”

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