John Southworth, Principal of fifth and sixth-form college MPW London, on why disappointing GCSEs need not mean disappointing A levels

MPW is exceptionally successful in terms of ‘value added’, which measures the considerable distance travelled by our students at A level relative to where they were at GCSE.

Performance (and underperformance) at GCSE are reflective of a number of factors. These are personal to each student but in our experience, three stand out as being particularly common in disappointing results: not working hard enough, poor examination technique and an undiagnosed educational need or a lack of knowledge of personal learning style.

Luckily, all of these problems are resolvable and there is no reason why one set of disappointing grades need set a precedent. So how does MPW help students improve their performance?

Our approach to education is holistic and we support students in three key ways to help them achieve their best.

1Exam technique
At MPW we are unashamedly exam-focused: we know that the key to success lies in understanding what an examiner is looking for and how to demonstrate this. Our regular testing helps students put into practice what they have learned and is designed to be a constructive opportunity to improve rather than something for students to feel intimidated or nervous about. Students at MPW frequently comment on how much this increases their confidence and how well-prepared they feel on the day of the exam as a result of this practice.

2Study skills
The emphasis at A level is for students to grow into independent thinkers and to develop higher level skills that will serve them not only in their current studies but at university and beyond. MPW’s dedicated Academic Support department runs weekly seminars on exam technique, note-taking, reading, organisation, essay-writing and revision. Students are welcome to attend as many or as few as they prefer and even those who felt confident with GCSE study skills will benefit from assistance with the increased demands of A level.

3Pastoral care
All MPW students are mentored by a Director of Studies who oversees their academic and personal wellbeing. There is always someone to talk to about progress, be that positive or negative, and if things are not going well students will not ‘slip through the net’. Their Director of Studies will meet with them on a regular basis and support any students who are not happy and achieving well, whatever the reason.

The gap between GCSE and A level is a daunting one for all students, let alone those who are looking to improve on their previous performance. However, as MPW’s track record demonstrates, with the right support and application there is no reason why disappointing GCSEs need to set the tone for the rest of a student’s education.