Exam Results; A measure, but not the measure of success

Prompted by this year’s extraordinary exam results season, Relationship Manager Kirsty Hewett reflects on some strategies teachers used to help her rethink the meaning of success.

Being a Relationship Manager means not only being in tune with relationships with others, but also the relationship with myself. Our relational skills start as soon as we start relationships, effectively from birth and our life experiences can play a huge part in how we hone and develop these skills as adults.

It has been 15 years since I received my A Level results, and still every year, I am flooded with dread and fear for every single student in the land. I am flooded with dread and fear because those 15 years ago I did not get the grades I wanted, and it truly felt as though my life as I knew it was over.

Now, spoiler, my life was not over. I got a university place through clearing, completed my degree in languages, travelled the world and have lived and worked in numerous exciting countries, companies, cities, and roles since then.

In fact, the trigger though, stems right back to my AS Levels. I did not transition so well from year 12 into 13 for many reasons. There were changes in my home life as my older brother went off to university, stress of exams and no idea what I “wanted to do with my life”. My grades were impacted, which varied wildly from B to U. This meant at the start of year 13, I still aspired to go to and received a conditional offer from a university that asked for BBB (but I hoped would take me with a BCC) but the reality of this ended up being very different.

The rollercoaster of emotions that I went through still resonates as probably the most confusing and stressful period of my school life. I feel so much empathy for the year 12s who are just about to start their final year of schooling, amidst the chaos of exams in the COVID period and results which will have profoundly affected their classmates, friends and family receiving GCSE and A Level grades. Let us not forget that the new year 13s choices will be hugely affected too.

I spoke with the CEO of a counselling charity in east London who said that self-worth in young people is one huge intrinsic factor,

“It’s important that we do not define ourselves by one aspect (academic achievement) but look at ourselves as a whole and see our worth. In all my years of working, most young people who come into our service have very low self-worth, and this has a big impact on how they meet the world and deal with difficulties – often feeling that they deserve the bad times or aren’t worth effort.”

I was well looked after by some of my teachers who supported me tirelessly and as I look back on all of this, I wanted to share some of my personal experience and a couple of tips that were helpful for me and that may also help your students kickstart the year.

Exam results are A measure of success, not THE measure of success

Understanding that results are important but so is developing and honing your social, life and well-being helps. We know that grades can suffer when your mental well-being is suffering just as we know that grades can improve with social support. A reminder that all these factors should be equally important when planning will never go a miss.

There is a simple therapeutic tool called the wheel of life where you name each segment of the 8 significant factors in your life, such as school, family, friends, hobbies and over the week you mark whenever you do something in that segment. At the end of the week it enables you to think about how you can address some of the imbalances in your life.

Personal experience: Being reminded that not all challenges are negative can also help. I studied AS Level Government and Politics and I did not have a natural aptitude for it. I am a linguist and owner of a creative mind so retaining facts and debating points without giving my opinion was an alien concept. However, I picked it for a very specific reason. I had realised that travel and languages was something that I really loved. Government and Politics students (along with History, Geography, and Geology students) were able to go on a trip to Russia. It felt important for me to go. I worked every Sunday in my village pub to fund it, I did an entire year of Government and Politics and I went on the trip and it was magical. I loved every second of it.

“Failure is delay, not defeat. It is a temporary detour, not a dead end.” (Denis Waitley)

I got exactly on the pass mark for an E in AS Level Government and Politics. One mark less and it would have been a fail, and that was ok. It gave me a sense of success, completing that year and going on that trip. The whole process taught me more about myself than I had experienced before.

Use your words, or your silence

We can all struggle to use our words well and this simple tip I have seen in schools can encourage students to stop and think about what they are saying how open they feel to share their concerns and successes with their classmates and others in their life. Take a moment to do a two-minute exercise, which can be done with 2 or more students where everyone has 2 minutes of uninterrupted time to say whatever is on their mind. Some students may choose to say nothing, and this is fine. Silence can be a crucial part of communication and this exercise also uses active listening where we learn to give each other their own time. Schedule this in as frequently as suits. By prescribing time for communication it becomes more natural for everyone to speak and listen in that way.

Personal experience: During year 13 as the pressure built and exams loomed, I had a teacher who had taught me since year 8 and knew me well. She would make the time and effort to always stop me for a quick chat whenever she saw me in those last few months, which signalled to me that her door was always open.

How can SSAT help with this?

The SSAT Framework for Exceptional Education now includes a well-being strand. Use this section of the tool to evaluate your school’s current practice in relation to wellbeing, highlighting strengths and identifying areas for improvement. We are offering accreditation for this strand recognising the fantastic work already happening in schools.

Contact your SSAT Relationship Manager to find out more.

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