On Results Day, UCAS, Clearing and the need to consider what lies beyond Plan B


Exam results day - goodThe papers are replete with images of the success of students across the country, the day after Results Day. Incidental conversation at home has been interspersed with cries of Bristol, Cardiff, Nottingham, Manchester, as one after another friend and acquaintance of my daughter confirms their university offer.

My daughter has received her AS level results and much that there is good news, there is still work ahead, an action plan to be formed to address one area of concern, and discussions to be had in school, once the new academic year begins again. In Pret a Manger yesterday, we formed an action plan for the next year, although in reality, many actions to be taken are immediate, and some will need tracking through the year, to Summer 2014.

But what if results arExam results day - bade not as anticipated, and A2 results have lead to disappointment, despair, and a chasing after every place available through the UCAS Clearing system?

What if the consequences of yesterday and results that displease, lingers into today, and tomorrow, and the weeks and months to come?

So much planning and thought into progressing onto university after sixth form is begun at an early stage and is dependent on the outcome of results acheived, at both AS and A2.

As a parent and as a professional working in education the past two decades and more, it is possible to see the characteristics of those young people who will acheive success, in whatever form it takes. In striving to understand children and young people, and being immersed in their difficulties and challenges repeatedly, I see patterns of behaviour and of context, that are either conducive to success, self confidence and optimisim, or that hinder and actively work against success.

Sean Covey, in his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teenagers, considers the following traits to be those most conducive to success;

  1. Habit 1:   Be Proactive
  2. Habit 2:   Begin with the end in mind
  3. Habit 3:   Put first things first
  4. Habit 4:   Think Win-Win
  5. Habit 5:   Seek first to understand, then to be understood
  6. Habit 6:   Synergize
  7. Habit 7:   Sharpen the saw

Aside the jargon, the essence is about being proactive and productive in thought, word and deed, and having the highest possible belief in oneself to acheive whatever outcome is desired.

At Pret a Manger, Gray’s Inn, my daughter logged into her results account and looked through her scores for each exam paper. From that action, I made a list of possibilities for a re-mark (at a cost of £40 per re-mark and £10 for the photocopy of her exam paper). One subject gave a result that was 2 marks off her predicted A grade, and so, seems a worthwhile investment of time and money to request a re-mark. We noted the deadline for requesting a copy of the paper and the deadline for requesting a remark.

We repeated that process for each paper but determined that there was only one borderline paper that merited a re-mark. There is a decision to be made regarding which subject to drop at A2 level, made more complex as my daughter achieved a higher grade in the subject she intends to drop, than in the one she has resolved to keep. The goal and purpose of our discussions – in an unfamiliar location during a rare day out in London – has helped create a context for action, for moving forward, for keeping the mood positive, light, optimistic.

confidence quotation - Arthur Ashe

There has been much talk in education circles on the need for parents to distance themselves from their son or daughter’s decisions on Results Day, to not interfere, to let them take control over calls to universities if they need to go through Clearing. I do not subscribe to that point of view and I would be wary of handing over the reins of responsibility entirely to young people, where the outcomes of poor decisions made in haste and despair, may have high cost consequences (with the typical cost of a three year degree now reaching £27,000 before interest starts to accumulate).

Those students who achieve most highly,  do so more often than not, in a context where relationships with parents, family and friends are mutually supportive, constructive, positive, even if not always harmonious. It is not necessary to agree, to have a productive conversation. Relationships with schools and colleges must also be ones based on trust and mutual respect.

There are wide variations in how much support schools give to students on Results Day, something that I do lament. There is much to be learned across the State/Private sector divide, in how schools prepare students for university and for the myriad outcomes that may materialize, in response to grades received. I would suggest that those schools with the greatest regard for the percentage of students acheiving a university place of their choice (which is necessarily different from stating a university place of their ‘first choice’) need also to be realistic and transparent about how many of their students acheive a university place through the clearing system.

One of the dangers of Clearing is that decisions are made at highly charged emotional times, with little thought of the long term consequences – the need for a university place is now, urgent, immediate. The consequences of that need are way off in the future, not to be regarded until some time down the line, when the course does not suit, and the location palls, and the cost of travel home to family or friends is restrictive, and exams taken reflect a tailed-off motivation…

The need for a Plan B and beyond reflects a belief that planning must always be completed in advance of the need. Plans cannot be constructed and hastily followed through on Results Day – they must be established as a firm order, well in advance  in order to be effective. It is not enough to have Plan A, if results are as wished for or anticipated, and a Plan B if not. Regard must be given to what lies beyond Plan B!

It’s not the plan that is important, it’s the planning. (Dr Graeme Edwards)

I advise always to have at least three scarios, that may kick into action as the need arises.

  • Plan A is the ideal, the dream scenario when effort is rewarded and grades are as predicted and worked for. Outcomes may follow a trajectory set in motion by thoughts and aspirations some years before;
  • Plan B is an alternative scenario, where achievements is just some little way off what has been predicted, but where opportunities abound, if one is prepared to be flexible, a little broader in choice, and more tolerant of aspects of a course, university or location that do not appeal;
  • Plan X lies beyond Plan B, and remains as firmly fixed in the mind’s eye as Plan A, and represents a purposeful response to unexpected outcomes, so that in effect, they are not unexpected at all. Plan X diminishes the power of the unexpected to derail one from goals and dreams determined long before.

Plan X must be forward-looking, must move towards a given goal, towards a desired destination. Even if that move forward is crab-like, side-ways on, still the action must be to advance. Plan X may incorporate a gap year with all the flexibility and opportunity that may afford, where an increase in relevant work experience together with taking on private lessons or enrolling at a college to increase grades, will enhance chances of a successful university application the following year.

Life doesn't have to be perfect

A weakness in our education system is that it does not encourage diversity of choice of destination, post eighteen. Plan B is too often poorly thought out, poorly executed because it does not have a place in our final school year. That is a failing, and a weakness in our schools today.

Equally, it is a flawed mindset that views alternative plans as signs of weakness, inability, or of poor self-worth. It is just as credible an option to consider Plan X, with all that entails, as it is to consider and achieve Plan A. Those opting to go on a gap year, anticipating that grades need to be improved, struggle far less with issues of self-esteem, self-worth, and self-confidence, than those taking a gap year as an unintended consequence of the failure of Plan A.

There is a need to shift mindsets so that each carefully thought through and drawn up plan, A, B and X, has equal merit, and equal appeal. That way, we may avoid the discontent, self-abuse and injurious thought that comes with failure to achieve…

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –

I took the one less travelled by,

And that has made all the difference.

Robert Frost – The Road Not Taken

Results Day is a momentous occasion, a significant landmark in a young person’s life, a time of a myriad complex emotions – it is a time of change. Referring back to an earlier post on transition points, I reference again a familiar and favourite phrase – these are momentary modulations. Soon, life will resume a more normal pace, but that norm, will be a new norm, and so life goes on until another ‘momentary modulation’ – Graduation.

With my very best wishes to all, parents, students and teachers, as you navigate, or help navigage the way through Plan A, Plan B and what lies beyond.


About HMStack

Independent Education Consultant (SEND) delivering local, regional and national services to providers within the public, private and third sector. Passionate about creating the context for positive change working with and on behalf of children, young people and their families, the conference and public policy sector and training organisations. An eclectic mix of clients includes schools and other educational settings, museums and heritage, service children and British Armed Forces support organisations and providers across the public, private and third sector. Educational writer, blogger and philosopher and aspiring screenwriter, inspired by drama and literary adaptations.

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