The Headmistress of Channing Lindsey Hughes says we should consider outcomes, not just exam grades, when we look at student success stories

This summer there were families up and down the country celebrating with their children after the release of this year’s public exams results. Many schools published headlines with photos of smiling students and their ‘best ever results’ on their website and social media feeds. But what about those students who don’t get A*s?

The reality is that below the headlines of As and A*s there are hundreds, if not thousands, of students whose results are an enormous personal triumph and will be, in most cases, what they need to move on to their next stage. As school leaders, we wouldn’t want to make headlines out of personal stories of real trauma and distress; nor are the media interested in the student who has two Cs and a D with a place on a fabulous course at a great uni to do what they really want to do for the next three or four years. For those whose results are genuinely disappointing, we know there will be lots of advice and support from school to work out what their best next step will be.

Channing School on why we should celebrate outcomes
At Channing, the approach is to talk about success as each student defines it, be that medical school, art foundation or gap year

At Channing we talk about ‘Girls Enjoying Success’, however they define it, and whilst we have lots of the headlines which prospective parents like to see – including great A-level and GCSE results – much more exciting is what they choose to do with these results. Often parents look at Oxbridge, medical school or veterinary school places as a shorthand for success (and yes, our students achieve places on these courses every year), but that’s not just what Channing, or life, is about. It’s about success, as each student defines it, so that they go on to do what they want to do – whether that is university, art foundation, conservatoire or gap year.

“It’s about success as each student defines it – whether that is university, art foundation, conservatoire or a gap year”

Good schools spend lots of time listening to those students who don’t shine in exams and work with them, often from as early as Year 9 or 10, to guide them to the right next step. It may be university, an apprenticeship or other training, or straight into employment – all equally valuable paths if they help the individual continue to explore who they are and what they want out of life. 

When you are choosing a school, it’s easy to be wowed by the headline results and the facilities but do also take some time to find out more about how the careers and higher education programmes work. How do they help students to think about their next steps?  How will they support those who are not academic high-flyers but want to access the best possible university and course available to them?  And what provision is in place for those who want to take the path less travelled after school?

Our inclusive, supportive ethos means that we focus on outcomes, rather than grades. If our A-level students are smiling at the end of results day because they are set firmly on their chosen path – whatever that may be – then I think that’s job done.


Further reading: Hampstead Fine Arts College on the value of vocational qualifications