Every child has experienced disappointment during school. It might be a little hiccup like not receiving the History Prize, or it could be bad news that has the potential to change the course of your life. And while academic failure is sadly a fact of daily life for some children, even the most consistently successful students may be dealt a nasty shock come results day.
Official figures this year have shown that the number of children failing to get their first choice of secondary school in England has risen, with tens of thousands affected. According to the Department for Education, about one in seven 11-year-olds (14.8 percent) did not get an offer from their first choice school. This year, A-Level pass rates also fell for the first time in more than three decades, and in 2013 there was a record fall in the number of GCSE pupils getting C grades or higher.
In the midst of that emotionally draining push to get kids through exams with the grades they need, it's unpalatable to even consider plan B. But you need to know what your options are if plan A doesn't work. It's also essential to help children develop the emotional resilience to bounce back – not just in terms of dealing with academic disappointment, but as part of their training for adult life.
‘The main thing to remember is not to panic! Many universities over the last two or three years have accepted lower grades than originally asked for, in both first choice and insurance situations, so it will give you a wide range of possibilities. However, it is vital in the planning stage for your insurance choice university to be at a realistic level, so that if things go wrong you have an alternative course somewhere you have considered before results day.
If you’ve failed to gain your insurance then Clearing is a very good option and many good courses at good institutions can be found. There have been record numbers of courses in Clearing this year and last. Take your time and when you ring to speak with an Admissions Tutor make sure you have rehearsed what you wish to say first. Take a deep breath and don’t forget - they are on your side.
If you decide Clearing is not for you, then a gap year can be used in a strategic way. It is crucial that once you decide that it is your best course of action, you plan it carefully with advice from tutors and Careers Advisers to ensure that the time is not wasted. They are best utilised by gaining relevant work experience in a field that relates to your intended course at university, as this then makes the application for the following year much stronger. It may be that you will need to retake a module or two during this time. It is usually quite easy to be able to organise your time in order to do both.
If you don’t wish to pursue a gap year it is worth contemplating an apprenticeship. They are becoming increasingly popular and are currently being supported by all the main political parties due to pressure from employers who criticise graduates and school leavers for having insufficient skills to fulfil jobs.’
Dr Tracy Johnson, Headmistress, Gateways School, Harewood
‘It’s natural to be upset and disappointed if you really wanted a place at a particular university and you missed your grades, or didn’t get an offer. My first piece of advice would be to have a good cry! And when you’ve done that, remember that there are always new possibilities and things that you may not have even thought of doing; places you had not considered studying; thousands of people you are yet to meet and be inspired by. There are practical responses to disappointment: going through Clearing to apply for a different course, reapplying after exams or appealing a mark. But don’t get stuck in the disappointment – see it as another opportunity. Perhaps the biggest challenge to the current generation of young people is the extent of the choices available to them which lie alongside the pressure to achieve perfection and anxiety about making the wrong choice. Take a breath – remember what really matters – and fight for what you can restore and move on from that which cannot be changed.’
Mrs Sylvia Brett, Principal, Harrogate Ladies’ College
‘Although poor A-Level results have the potential to ruin the last few hazy weeks in August, there is no reason at all why falling short of your A-Level grade or UCAS points target should mark the end of formal education. Above all else, remember that failure, like success, is rarely complete or final: we are defined by how we react.
So, on that note – don’t panic. Many of those receiving disappointing exam results on the morning of 14th August this year were quick to discover that things are not always as they seem, because as the UCAS site updated, they discovered that they had, in fact, been accepted into their firm or insurance institution – despite having missed their offer target by as many as three grades. Quite why this happened is open to debate. If it happens to you, log on to the UCAS site and see if your original offers are still in play. If you have just missed out (perhaps by a single grade) it is worth picking up the phone and ringing your chosen institutions and see if there is any scope for them to accept you onto your chosen course.
Secondly, remember that being rejected by your preferred institutions, and pushed through clearing, can open up more possibilities than it closes off. Think strategically – discuss a possible re-mark with your teachers, shop around in Clearing, and if you don’t find a solution this year, re-group and try again next year. Whilst those planning to re-take the odd unit need to check and make sure that their chosen institutions will welcome applications from candidates with a series of A-Level grades secured across two years, this is certainly a course for some. In other cases, there will be no need for re-takes. It will simply be a case of reapplying to suitable, perhaps more realistic, institutions with the grades already achieved: in which case the ‘year out’ morphs into a gap year that should be planned with a view to how it is going to look on your CV in five years’ time. Use the time available to gain new skills – or hone those that you already have.
For those who have fallen so far short of their offer grades that simply reapplying is not an option, there is always the option of embarking on a Foundation course. Such courses, offered by a range of institutions, will allow you to enrol with more modest qualifications – with the possibility that you can transfer to a full degree course if you can prove yourself. Missing the grades certainly isn’t the end of the world – in fact, more likely, it will force you to find greater clarity about what you really want to do after A-Levels.’
Paul Fairclough, Deputy Head and Head of Sixth Form, Sedbergh School, Cumbria