It's the moment your teenager has been working towards their whole school life – A-Levels.
But when all that hard work and stress don’t pay off, and the results are a flop, what can you do to ease your offspring through their disappointment and set them on the path to new success?
Do you scold them for failing to knuckle down, ground them for the summer and insist on re-sits, send them packing into the world of work, or pay for the gap year of a lifetime?
Whatever your kneejerk reaction, the first thing to remember, say experts, is to let them have their disappointment.
As parenting guru Sue Atkins said: “If there are tears, they’ve got to be shed. Upset is like champagne bubbles; you’ve got to let it out, otherwise it all builds up.”
So if for the first few days all they want to do is blub and wallow – let them. And a little parental sympathy doesn’t go astray, at least at first.
NHS family psychologist David Spellman insists: “The key thing is to let your child know you love them, regardless of exam results, or anything else for that matter.
“It’s a good idea to share your own stories of failure, if only to re-establish that everyone has their ups and downs, and that it isn’t the end of the world.”
But once the initial shock has worn off, it’s important to help guide your kids through their options – of which, they will probably be surprised to learn, there are many.
[Related article: How to encourage a good work ethic]
The success or failure of A-Levels may seem like the biggest event in a young person’s life – the difference between a whole new life at university or college, the promise of a dreamt-of career or the prospect of another year slogging away at school – but there are ways to salvage positives from poor results.
Here are some of the steps they can take:
Log on to Ucas
If a university place is what those A-Levels were aimed at, your son or daughter can log on to the Ucas site as early as the morning of results day to see whether they have been accepted by any of the universities they applied to. They won’t discover their grades but it will give them an idea of how they have done – and get them fully armed with all the information on whether they have made it or need to rethink their plans.
Contact your chosen course/job
Even if they haven’t got the grades needed to make the course or apprenticeship they’ve hoped for, it’s always worth contacting the college or workplace to see if they can still make a case for acceptance. Make sure they have reasons ready as to why they should be accepted – any extra work experience, for instance, or qualifications.
Go through clearing
In the absence of being accepted on to their top choice courses, your teen can go through the clearing process – which means searching for any places left elsewhere. Students are eligible for clearing if they have not received any offers, have declined any offers given to them or have not met the required grades. Clearing applications can be completed to September 20. Check #ucasclearing on Twitter or the Ucas website at http://www.ucas.com/students/nextsteps/clearing for more. Newspapers also list clearing places following A-Level results.
If your teen hasn’t landed the results they need or done as well as they think they might, re-sits are a good option. It is advisable to chat to a teacher first to see if they feel better results might be possible. Exams can be retaken in the following January, or the following summer. Check whether the school will pay for the retake or whether you need to cover the costs. If your teen’s school won’t let them re-sit, you can try to find another school or college that will – if they are sure they can improve their mark.
Think of alternatives
So the A-Level in Economics was a flop but that doesn’t mean they have to shelve their dreams of becoming an accountant. There are a great many vocational courses on offer, from GNVQs to BTECs, NVQs, modern apprenticeships, art foundation courses and City and Guilds. Check these options out: they may set your kids on an alternative path to their hoped-for careers or help get them into university further down the line.
Take a year out
This doesn’t necessarily mean raiding the university fund to pay for a six-month party break in Marbs, or even hiking off to “find myself” in farthest flung Asia. Taking a year out from academic study can give teenagers time to rethink their aims, earn some cash, gain new experiences and independence or even ramp up their chances of getting a uni place or job later. If they want to be a journalist, for instance, they might consider securing work experience on a local newspaper for the summer while subsidising the unpaid work with a part-time job. Or taking up one of the many volunteer opportunities, such as VSO projects at home or abroad (see www.vso.org.uk). Travelling can be hugely rewarding, too, if they throw in learning a new language, blogging about their unique experiences or learning a new skill – such as photography or scuba diving – while they’re out there. Make sure they have an eye on what they want to do in the long-term, what skills and interests are required, and carve out their trip accordingly.
Get a job
Ditching academia for now is not always a bad thing – getting an early foothold in the world of work can be hugely rewarding and pay big dividends later. Your offspring won’t be running up debts (if they budget properly); they will be picking up new skills and getting a head start on the old CV. They could even use their evenings to take a class in something they are interested in. Seek out careers advice from your school or see https://nationalcareersservice.direct.gov.uk/advice/Pages/default.aspx