Results Day

Today was GCSE results day. As usual I went into school to see the students and to see how they had fared in their final exams. For the most part the results were as expected – but then they usually are aren’t they?

But in amongst them was one totally unexpected result, one that stopped me in my tracks. Before I tell you what it was, let’s rewind a few months, to December 2007. That was when our Y11 students sat their mock exams. One student (I’m running out of fake names, so I’ll just call her M) did much, much better than expected, I didn’t think she would pass, but she achieved a grade F in her mock maths exam.

Now that might not sound like much, but M really found maths a struggle. She still counted on her fingers to do even the simplest mental calculation. She seemed to have no sense of number at all and failed to realise when she had arrived at an answer that couldn’t possibly be right. Add in very weak literacy skills and it was no wonder that she struggled.

However M never, ever gave up. She is the hardest working student you could imagine. I worked with her to try to help her to improve and so did the teaching assistants who supported me when I taught M’s class. But progress was slow and although she improved during term time, every time there was a school holiday M slipped back a little. So, as I said, progress was slow – but M was making some progress. This is why I was so delighted when she got a grade F on her mock exam. It was only just an F, but it was a big step forward.

Of course M thought that was rubbish, she wanted more, she carried on working. I didn’t want to to knock her confidence, but given how much time and effort it had taken to move on that little bit, I didn’t expect miracles.

Then M came to see me and asked if I was doing any extra revision classes. She told me she needed a C in maths (and English) for the college course she wanted to do. I hate giving kids bad news, but it wasn’t going to do her any favours to leave her relying on a grade that she just wasn’t going to achieve. We had a long chat about the level she was working at then and how long an average student took to improve by just one grade. I explained that there just wasn’t time for her to get up to a grade C in the few weeks left and advised her to look at other courses.

I thought she would be gutted, but M was fine. “Can I still come to revision classes though?” she said. Now at this point I was already snowed under. I was offering revision classes to another class – and in maths there is different content tested at different grades, so M couldn’t come to those classes, or she would end up “revising” topics like Pythagoras and trigonometry that she had never been taught. (Remember that M was still counting on her fingers at this stage.) I was also involved in three other very time consuming projects, running a lunchtime club and providing catch-up sessions for my ICT students. I was exhausted and had already recognised the need to cut back, there was no way I could manage another class. But how could I say no? Obviously I said yes.

To be honest, I didn’t think it would make any difference to M’s final result, only to her confidence. Part of me really didn’t want to commit to spending a lot of extra time working with M, not because I didn’t want to, but because I was already struggling and getting increasingly exhausted.

But we did it, we worked together. Our goal wasn’t a grade C, it was to boost M’s mental skills to the point where she didn’t rely on finger counting. We started by using pictures, or I would hold up my hands, or M’s friend S would hold up hers. We played endless number games. We used some websites that she could practise on at home. M made a little progress and she started to become less reliant on her fingers for calculating.

In normal lessons we did all the normal revision stuff: key facts, past papers, exam strategies. M kept on working. She started to surprise us, she was really starting to improve.

Her official predicted grade (the one that is calculated from all the baseline data) was G. By the time she left, I recklessly and optimistically predicted a good F. (I should point out here that my predictions were correct for every other student in M’s class).

M got a grade D.

I can’t imagine how hard she worked in the weeks while she was on study leave. I’m so pleased for her, that’s an unbelievable result.

Just occasionally, a student reminds me why I must never, ever give up on anybody.

4 comments to Results Day

  • What a wonderful story.
    Well done both of you!

    Do you think her parents paid for a tutor for the last few weeks?

    I hope the college will admit her to the course she wants to do with a D. Do you thinkt hey might, or is it something (like teaching) where there is an ‘official’ requirement for a C?

  • I think her parents probably did sort out some tutoring! I know M has got into college, but not on the course that she originally wanted – she did much better in maths than in English. She’s still studying for what she wants to do, but starting at a lower level. I think she’ll end up exactly where she wants to be, through sheer persistence and hard work.

  • This is a side of teaching that the often cynical general public never see or want to hear about. Your dedication beyond the call of duty deserved some kind of financial or time bonus – not just the bonus of that warm feeling you had in knowing you had helped M to over-achieve. Respect.

  • Z

    Well done her and well done you. And she had to understand it to have done that well, so it’s real learning, not just cramming for the exam. I’m sure she’ll do well in the future and, you know, you will be one of the teachers she will remember all her life.