What to do if Your Child Does Not Receive the GCSE Results They Wanted

24 August 2022

Aaron Eckhoff

Group of teenagers opening their results

In life, disappointment is a regular occurrence. As such, this disappointment can feel like failure. However, failure needs to be embraced and understood rather than feared. The development of resilience cannot take place without failure, as this is the space in which we learn the most. Some failures are more impactful than others but should be looked upon and understood in the same light. Ultimately, when we fail, this helps us to gather essential information about ourselves in many ways. It shows us where we have potential misgivings, or where we may not have spent enough time preparing or concentrating on something in order to succeed. Therefore failure, in this light, is good. It helps us to get better and push forward. In the words of Winston Churchill…

“Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.” 

The past two and a half years have been disruptive, confusing, and inconsistent for most students who now await their GCSE results. For all involved, it will be the first time in a long educational history where the outcomes that we all eagerly await are surrounded by a cloud of uncertainty. The newspapers and news outlets itching to lay either the success or blame of the upcoming results on unprecedented targets. Within this context, it shouldn’t be at all surprising that more students than normal will be presented with a less than desired result. The question to ask ourselves as parents in such an environment is, ‘how can I navigate this time and stay strong throughout?’ More specifically, ‘how am I going to be able to help my child if they fail?’ 

The team at Compass for Life have 3 actions parents can engage with to help their children navigate this potentially turbulent and stressful time.

Action 1 – Be kind and patient

This is probably the hardest thing to do when you receive bad news.

There is a very predictable pattern of thinking that takes place when we receive bad news or have a negative experience and knowing this can help know where you are in the continuum.

Here are the different stages to notice:

1. ShockThis is where your inner, and possibly external dialogue says ‘WHAT?’ with a long pause where you begin to try to process the information that you’ve just read or received. This shock is usually quite a short and sharp experience, leading to the next stage. 

2. DisbeliefThis is where you think, ‘This can’t be right’ or ‘I can’t believe this’. This is an important stage to move through quickly if possible. The quicker you can move from this phase, the less likely you are ruminating, exploring the various reasons and excuses for why you think that this simply cannot be true. Acknowledge that you will be in a bit of denial, which is completely normal. 

3. BlameThe longer you spend in step 2, the more likely you are to spend time in step 3. This is probably the most dangerous stage as you begin to start to find other people to place blame upon. This is why it is important to remember to be kind to each other as ultimately, there really is no blame to be handed out. Exam results are the culmination of many factors and there is not one person or thing that can explain an unwanted result.

To move through the initial shock of the result, it will be important to catch and stop yourself when the conversation about blame begins to happen. Remember, it is normal to go through each of the above, but it is vital that we catch ourselves when it happens so that we can move our mind into a more productive state and bounce back with enthusiasm.

Action 2 – Focus on the Facts

Emotions will be running very high in the event of receiving undesired results. As such, it will be important to allow your child to feel and explore these feelings for some time, but then move swiftly on to the facts that are in front of you. As such, it is important to engage with the school who will help you to outline the various options that remain; and there will be many available to you.

To help move from the emotional response to the more focused and strategic response, encourage deep breathing and walking whilst you discuss the various options available. Try not to judge the amount of time it takes to calm the emotions as everyone will have different levels of emotion that accompany bad news. Instead, do what is necessary for you to facilitate putting your child’s mind into a space where it can begin to engage with the information more practically. If you try to engage too soon, you run the risk of promoting poor decisions that are mostly rooted in emotion. 

The key here is to encourage engagement with those in their support network, engage with the school, calm their emotions to gain clarity, and look at the bad news as a way to develop a better understanding of themselves as well as an opportunity to reconnect with their inner ambitions and Super North Star.

Action 3 – Focus on the Possible Opportunities

There are countless stories from the most successful people in the world showing that negative results or setbacks often lead to other more fruitful opportunities. Exam results do not define who your child is or what they are capable of. As such, if you allow the results to be overly catastrophic to them or to you, then you may not see the alternative opportunities that may present themselves.

It is often the case that getting negative feedback or news can be useful feedback to you and possibly allow you to reflect on your surroundings and make changes to enhance your path or future as a result. Closing your mind off and reveling in disappointment will not be a useful exercise. Instead, looking for the story of opportunity will be better for you, your child, and for those trying to help identify a route forward. If you frame the conversations and questions around possible ways forward, it often means that you can uncover a positive route forward more quickly, spending less time in the rumination stage of the shock and disbelief of the negative result.

Realistic optimism is key in this action, and this can be calibrated by engaging with your support network. Vital in this conversation is to keep your and your child’s mind open to possible alternative futures that you perhaps hadn’t thought about before the exams. Remember, a goal (or a Super North Star as we call it) can change if circumstances along the road also change. It’s not the end of the world, it’s simply a change in direction.

Bouncing back from failure takes time, patience, and believe it or not, practice. Take the failure of exams as an opportunity to help your child grow, learn, and develop skills to be able to bounce back quickly in future failures.

All the best to all the GCSE students and parents this week as they receive their results. We love to hear stories, good and bad, so tag us in your results day posts so that we can spread the word and share your story!