Choosing your path: social pressures, result anxiety and reminding yourself that grades are just grades

On Thursday 15th August and Thursday 22nd August thousands of young people were opening up their envelope and holding their breath. A Level and GCSE results days 2019. Where a set of numbers or letters (I have no idea how grades work anymore) will change someone’s journey.

Statistics show that 1 in 6 young people below age 16 will experience an anxiety condition at some point in their lives.

Our planet is dying. Our economic future is currently being administered by a man who has a literal blonde turd on his head (the British one, not the American one) and their whole future can depend on whether they achieve certain grades to make a start on their further education or employment.


Sarcasm. The lowest form of wit apparently, but man it makes the point very clear.

Let’s focus on the latter point, our educational system and the pressure we put on our young people (and their teachers!) to achieve certain targets. Our young people are told from a very early stage that to achieve in life you need grades, grades, grades. There is no mention of employability skills, independence skills, equality and diversity awareness and kindness. Which are – arguably I’m sure – more valuable in our society today.

Young people are particularly told to follow one path, and if they don’t seem to follow this path this can be frowned upon. I remember going to see my careers advisor in college and being made to feel weird for not actually wanting to go to university. But there are so many other paths – why should we feel like we only have one choice?!

There are many paths you can take Post-16:


You can learn by doing. Our young people learn differently and some learn by developing practical skills through employment. A lot of companies offer apprenticeships for young people to develop these skills and learn by shadowing others. It is often the case that employers than take you on full-time after you have completed your training.

You can search for different Apprenticeships online.

Image result for practical working

Full-time Employment

After education you can go into full-time work. You may need experience for this job depending so this is why most young people complete the Apprenticeship first, however this is not always the case and can depend on what the employer is after.

You can search for most jobs via Google or employment websites. You can also use local recruitment agencies who can find the right fit for you.


Another option is to go travelling abroad – this has become a lot more popular in recent years and people can go at any time. It may be that you need to complete some work to save up for your spends and travel – but once you are out there you can find a range of things to do. There are also plenty of job opportunities abroad and travel companies willing to help.


Attending University has become extremely popular choice, but this is for a good reason. University does allow educational progression in your chosen subject whilst you are gaining independence and life skills, living away from home and being in charge of your finances for potentially the first time. You can find out more about University and the different options through UCAS. They are extremely helpful with tips on what to do if you have achieved different results than predicted.

Just because you have been told you need to go down one route, doesn’t mean that route is best for you. It’s great to always keep your options open.

It can be helpful also to hear about all the different paths previous students have taken. In our own ECBC team we all took different paths whilst studying:

Results days always give me major flashbacks to when I got my A level results however many years ago (8!!) I didn’t get the results I was aiming for, which meant I didn’t get a place at the uni I had my heart set on. I was pretty gutted. I’d worked so hard but sometimes the marks just don’t happen like that. “Sold yourself short again,” I told myself. So I decided to go my back up choice- a university I didn’t go and visit because it was too far, a university people who went there told me I shouldn’t go to.

I felt quite lucky because at least I was still going to uni and following the path of what I wanted to do but, to be honest, I was dreading it. I didn’t know what I was letting myself in for. And you know what? I fucking LOVED it. I found some amazing, funny, inspirational people (and a few dickheads). I found the love of my life. I found a new home. But mostly I found the space to explore who I am, to feed my curiosity, to prove to myself that I am resilient and as long as I stay true to myself I can make it through whatever life throws at me.

What I’m trying to say by sharing this mildly irritating “this was MY results day” story is, whatever the outcome, remember that you and your abilities are not defined or limited by these grades. They’re simply a stepping stone to your next thing, whether that’s more education, work or something entirely different.   Jodie x


I was offered a place at University and I chose to defer it a year so I would be able to change my mind at a later date (Keep all your options open, you never know!) I then applied for several Business and Administration apprenticeships across Manchester and started in a local office. I bloody loved it. This apprenticeship gave me the confidence boost I needed and I was lucky to work with such lovely people who slowly brought me out of my shell.

I then chose to visit my friend Jodie (yes our Jodes here at ECBC) at her University and it completely confirmed my thoughts – after a break I was ready to go back into education. I was also very ready to move out and gain some independence.

My point is – we all have different paths and we can always change our mind and go down a different one. I will never know what would have happened if I had gone to uni at 18. But I don’t need to know. Your A levels can open a range of doors – it doesn’t have to be the door of university. But it also means you don’t have to choose one door. You are not a fool for going back and choosing another door. Emma x


This is the first year that GCSE results day hasn’t loomed large in my life for a very long time. My own results days for GCSE (15 years ago…) AS and A levels (14 and 12 years ago) were followed by many years of supporting young people and my own students through their results as well.

The experience was always, sadly, a stressful one.

I was happy with my own GCSE results but my AS results were a huge disappointment to me. I didn’t get anything like what I was hoping for. For various reasons I ended up taking a gap year in the middle of my two years at college and changed my subjects entirely, when I went back to complete my A Levels – the outcome of which is that I actually only have one complete A Level to my name!

I thought this would stop me from going to uni and, at the time, I wasn’t sure what I would do anyway. So I went straight into full time work. I soon found something I wanted to pursue as a career. Something that I needed a degree to do. To my surprise and pleasure, I wasn’t limited by my lack of A Levels, as I had feared I might be. I signed up to complete my degree with the Open University. It was the best decision I ever made. I loved every year of my degree and because of the distance learning, flexible format, I was able to carry on working full time.

The results I had been so disappointed in have never prevented me from pursuing what I wanted to. They are just letters on a piece of paper, now buried in a drawer somewhere.

In the years that followed this is what I tried to impress on my students as they fretted in the run up to results day and, occasionally, received results they were disappointed in or worried by: in the end, they are just marks on a page. They do not determine your worth or your ability and they certainly do not dictate your future. Even if your planned college place or uni place or even job did depend on certain results and you didn’t quite get them, there is always another way to reach for that dream. Jen x

What has been your experience? What would you say to your younger self about results day if you could? Please comment below and share with us.


If you have collected your results this week and things have not worked out as you planned, that’s okay. Allow yourself some time to process these things and try and get some sleep – then the next day it’s time to figure out a Plan B, or Plan C, D, E, F, etc.

You do you. x

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