Exams – what happens if my child fails?

It’s every parent’s nightmare: the envelope opened on Results Day, the tears and recriminations, the panicked rushing around trying to set up an alternative plan for September, the loss of a dream career… but it doesn’t have to be like that!

In an ideal world, you could help your child avoid all of this; you’d find a way to let them sail through the exam season like a swan gliding across the local pond. After all, results are getting better each year and Freda Bloggs down the road is getting straight As, right? But there’s more to every story. Poor Freda might be working all the hours there are to make things appear so effortless; that swan is paddling its legs madly under the water! Getting revision right will help things progress more smoothly though. Help your child find the right balance for them, and don’t ask them to give up their social life, hobbies or part-time job – these are an important part of their experience too.

In the run-up to Results Day, make a plan in advance. It’s best if you and your young person can be at home rather than out of the country; that way you will have easy access to any support and advice needed, especially if their next step depends on them getting the required results. Don’t underestimate peer support: the child who flunked History won’t feel half so bad if they know their friends did too! Ask them what they need from you – do they want you to be with them when they get their results or would they rather do it in private or with friends? Can they get results online or do they need to go into school? Do some (low-key) research on backup options – a disappointing day can be saved from catastrophe by having a Plan B ready.

So what if you get to Results Day, you’ve got everything in place and the news fulfils your worst fears? First: don’t panic and definitely DON’T start blaming your child or making comparisons. They will be feeling bad enough, with thoughts of failure, letting people down and more. They will need your support and empathy (and tissues!), and when they’re ready, they’ll need your help to line up their next step. And the good news is that there is ALWAYS a next step. After GCSE, many students expect to go straight on to A levels, then university, then their ideal career, as if they’re on a railway track heading off into the distance with no junctions or diversions. It’s not surprising – cuts to careers education mean that schools don’t have much capacity to guide students individually. But having worked with many students who have discovered, too late, that A Levels aren’t right for them, and seen the figures for university drop-out, it’s clear that there is no one-size-fits-all solution.

So what are the options? Let’s look at two key transition points: 16 and 18. Did you know that in the 16-19 sector (in England), young people are entitled to three years’ free education? Most sixth-forms and colleges offer two-year courses but there’s nothing to stop someone taking a 1-year course followed by a 2-year course or vice versa. The only restrictions are on the level of the course (1-3) and the places available in the institution. So a young person with lower GCSE results could do an additional year’s study at Level 1 or 2 (GCSE level) and then go on to further education at the college of their choice. A student finishing A levels and wanting to boost their portfolio of qualifications could take a Level 3 course at another local provider. People can usually take resits as independent candidates too.

And education doesn’t have to mean sitting in a classroom – let’s face it, that doesn’t suit everyone! So why not consider training courses or apprenticeships? Far from the old-style trade options, these are now available in a huge range of creative, technical and business-focused fields, all the way up to degree level. What other options are available in your area? All sorts of small, niche providers are offering specialist courses in media, music and more, many of them especially welcoming to young people who struggle in a mainstream environment.

So what will success look like for your young person, and how will you work together to make it happen? I’d love to know.

Are you supporting someone who is taking exams this year (or do you know someone who is)? Would you like to learn how to help them perform their best? Click here or find me on Facebook to discover more about “Ease into Exams”, my online course for parents and carers.

Lucy Aditi is on a mission to help young people thrive in their education and take control of their future. As The Life Tutor, she brings 20 years’ experience to her coaching and wellbeing strategies, guiding teens and their parents through challenging times and empowering them to grow together.

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