Why failing your GCSEs and A levels doesn’t necessarily mean the be all and end all – there are options out there

‘I knew Mark wasn’t going to do well in his A levels. In spite of many stern talks and rows, he’d lied about going to revision sessions at school, and hung out with friends instead. A few late nights cramming in the last couple of weeks just wasn’t enough – he barely scraped two passes,’ says Anna, a mum of three in Clapham.

Whether they’ve studied hard but not performed well on the day, chose the wrong subjects to study, or just didn’t work hard enough like Mark, results day can seem like the end of the world for students whose envelope doesn’t contain happy news. Last year the number of schools that failed to reach the government’s target of 40% of pupils attaining five GCSE grades between A* and C, including passes in English and maths, doubled. While it’s true that this can partly be blamed on changes to exam rules, and London secondary schools’ exam performance was pretty impressive, for those who slip through the net this will be of little comfort.

What can you do if you fail your exams?

There are options out there if your exam results disappoint

So what are the options? If your child feels they have been wrongly graded, you should discuss a re-mark with their teachers. With GCSEs, their chosen school or sixth form college may be prepared to offer a place on a different course, or even the one your child wanted to study if they have some good grades as well as bad, so talk to their applications team at the earliest opportunity. And GCSEs and A Levels can, of course, be retaken. Rules about resits vary according to subject and exam board, so discuss the options with your child’s intended school or college. Most will let you resit GCSEs while doing other courses.

If your son or daughter needs more targeted help with getting better A level grades, go to cife.org.uk to find a specialist independent college. Your local college of further education will also offer A level retakes for external candidates at a much lower cost, but this will mean studying for retakes at home, and just paying the required exam and/or invigilation fee.

Taking a gap year that includes retaking A levels can provide the opportunity to do something worthwhile, like a work placement or volunteer project

Depending on how disappointing the A level grades are, if your teen is determined to go to university it might be worth going through Clearing. Alternatively, taking a gap year that includes retaking A levels can provide the opportunity to do something worthwhile, like a work placement or volunteer project, although it’s important to allow enough time to revise and focus on exams again at the important time.

The most important thing is not to panic. There are options to help turn failure into success. Work – whether unpaid or voluntary – apprenticeships or other types of further education, like a National Vocational Qualification or a Higher National Diploma, may prove beneficial. And there are many late bloomers. An apprenticeship and a full-time job in IT support later, at 21 Mark is back at college doing A levels and planning to study sociology at university.

Words: Marina Gask

What can you do if you fail your exams?

Fleet Tutors can offer tuition support in all GCSE subjects

Expert advice: Don’t panic

Eileen Field, Head of Education Services, Fleet Tutors

There are lots of changes being implemented regarding GCSEs and A levels. Have these affected how retakes work?

If your child has just completed GCSEs, resits are on offer. Maths and English can be taken this November and as the exams have changed from September 2015 onwards, the final opportunity to resit the current exam format is June 2016. All schools and 16-19 provisions have to offer revision and the resit opportunity on these key subjects – so make enquiries as soon as you can.

Does Fleet Tutors offer specific retake courses?

Fleet Tutors provide tuition support in all GCSE subjects and are able to help you prepare for the resit, be that at your school, college or as a private candidate at another institution. Being the student, you need to make sure you’re up to speed with your own entry. Having said that, Fleet Tutors are also able to advise and make recommendations to help you through the paperwork. Tuition works best if it’s frequent and sustained. Your tutor will provide all the guidance you need to prepare thoroughly for the resit exam.

If it’s A levels where you haven’t met your grades, again there are alternative routes. Contact your school for advice as they know best your academic strengths. Often, students will find that their preferred university will accept them, so do check before you make any decisions. If your place has gone at the university of your first choice, then start looking at Clearing with UCAS.

What words of encouragement can you offer a student who has just failed their exams?

The sky will not fall in if you’ve been unlucky with any of your grades this year. Your parents/carers and school/college all care about you and will want to help you achieve your goals and dreams. Take a deep breath and think over what you really want to do – decide, commit and you’ll succeed.

Find out more at fleet-tutors.co.uk or by calling 020 8994 1263

Expert advice: Assess your options

Steve Boyes, Principal, MPW Sixth Form College

What options are there if a pupil has failed their GCSEs?

Not gaining enough GCSE passes (Grade C or above) or grades that are not sufficiently high can affect whether a student gains a sixth-form place or may constrain their subject choices at A level. Talk to the school about these possibilities.  Some subject passes are ‘must-haves’ in any case: English Language and Maths. Others are desirable: a science and a modern foreign language. Then there is the absolute number of subject passes to consider: what will suffice will depend upon what a student’s future aspirations are. Some universities will be satisfied with as few as five GCSEs, while those in the Russell Group would prefer eight or more. As far as GCSE retakes are concerned, some schools or colleges will allow a student to do these alongside A level courses in the lower-sixth year. If their results are a complete disaster, it may be necessary to devote a whole year simply to improving their GCSE profile.

What options are there if a pupil has failed their A levels?

This really depends on the extent to which a pupil has ‘failed’ and the circumstances of their underperformance. In the case of a ‘near-miss’ the first step should be to make contact with the university Admissions Tutors to discuss the possibility of a student joining even without the usual prerequisite grades. The student should make this call personally: there is nothing less convincing than a parent or teacher ringing on behalf of a student who is unwilling to make the effort themselves.

If the student’s grades represent a significant underperformance, the next step is to consider retakes and there are a number of ways to approach these. At MPW, we offer five different retake programmes, including the option to change subjects completely or the chance to combine a ‘mini gap year’ with doing retake courses. Determining which is the best route to take is usually best done in face-to-face meetings with academic staff. Colleges specialising in retake programmes will usually have academic specialists on hand throughout the post-results period. It is critical to make the right decision about which is the most appropriate type of retake course to do. Pragmatism is a key factor in this: taking an inappropriate course and underperforming a second time will not look good to Admissions Tutors or future employers.

Find out more by visiting mpw.co.uk or calling 020 7835 1355