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Exam Results in the Time of Covid

Aug 09, 2021

As the results days for GCSE and AS/A-Levels draw near, the anxiety amongst students, parents (and teachers!) is running high. How has your school communicated changes to the usual exam process to parents? Have a look at our checklist for engaging with parents at this crucial time:    

Results day   

It's fair to say that schools are still not 'back to normal' following the pandemic. But do parents know this? Communicate to families any restrictions that you have had to put in place on results day. These might include:   

  • Designated times for picking up results. 
  • Whether pupils can come in groups or need to come alone. 
  • Asking parents to stay in their car/outside the school building to maintain social distancing inside.
  • Advising that face masks are worn.
  • Hand gel dispensers on entry and exit points.   
  • Rules around photos and celebrations. 

On results day, when emotions are already running high, you must manage the expectations of how the day might run for students and their families before they come into school. So in addition to the communications you sent last term and clear signage on the day, ensure you use your school software to send SMS messages to families on the day and on the lead up to results day, reminding them of any restrictions. Additionally, you may want to place practical information about results day on your website's home page and on social media throughout this week, so it's easy to access.   

Let's Celebrate!   

With everything that's going on, it's easy to forget the usual fanfare that takes place on results day. However, now more than ever, students and teachers deserve a big pat on the back and a chance to celebrate everything they've achieved! Consider:  

  • The presentation of the school on results day. How does the school site look different today than on any other day of the school year? Does it feel welcoming and celebratory, or is it still in a Covid Bubble? Buying a few banners and balloons doesn't cost a fortune but can transform the feel of the school for students, reminding them that there is much to celebrate!   
  • Spreading positivity! Unusually, both results days are taking place in the same week this year. Use this as an opportunity for a week-long celebration on social media. Communicate to families how proud the teachers are of their students and share stories of success.    
  • Thank the teachers! This has been an unprecedented year in a profession that's already well-known for its many challenges. Make sure staff feel appreciated and celebrate everything that they have achieved this year. Let them know they will be supported through the appeals process and the beginning of the next school year.  

Hope for the best, plan for the worst   

With headlines announcing that we are likely to see a "bumper crop" of A and A* grades this year and that grade inflation is inevitable, it's safe to say that expectations will be high. But how can you manage students' (and their families') expectations about what a 'fair' grade is for them?    

We know that teachers have been working hard to collect evidence of students' work since Gavin Williamson announced in February that Teacher Assessed Grades (or TAGs) would be used to decide students' scores. PEN has seen some great work from our member schools that has clearly explained the process of TAG to families. Regular communications, including the use of videos and online drop-in sessions for parents, have ensured understanding and allowed time for questions.   

PEN advocates clear communication and frank discussions with parents always – but specifically during the appeals process. Make sure your appeals process:   

  • is clear and easy to follow. Make sure parents know who to contact, when and how;
  • is suitable for parents with limited literacy or English language skills (include a glossary for educational terms if necessary);
  • is translated into home languages (wherever possible);
  • contains clear deadlines;
  • manages parents' expectations that grades can go up, stay the same, or even be moved down, during appeals;
  • is written in a friendly tone and that all staff respond to parents' queries in an approachable and non-judgemental manner.

Planning for next year   

There is still a great deal of uncertainty around what exam season will look like next year. However, it seems likely that the pandemic will continue to disrupt 'normal' operations for some time to come. The government has recently announced that exams are expected to take place next year, but the department and Ofqual are seeking views from students, parents and teachers on proposed arrangements for GCSEs, AS, and A levels in summer 2022.    

The suggested arrangements for GCSEs, AS, and A-Levels include choices about assessment topics for some subjects, and giving schools and colleges advance information about the focus of exam content for other subjects.     

Keep parents in the loop with changes as you learn more about them. Posting regular updates for exam groups on your social media or by SMS is a good way of 'drip feeding' this information to parents. It's also well worth considering a parent forum or FAQ section on your school website to tackle families' queries during this ever-changing situation.   Make it clear where the information is coming from, who is making the decisions and where they can read more about it. 

PEN members can access our 'Parents' Guide to Exam Results' as well as a host of other supportive resources to engage parents in every aspect of their child's learning journey.

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