A well-being led approach to examination success

Posted on 19th Dec 2019 in School News, Exams, Curriculum, Which School?

Steve Winter, Deputy Head of Bethany School, outlines a 10-step plan for planning and preparation...

Placing the well-being of pupils first ensures examination success. This has once again been evidenced at Bethany School by outstanding A level and GCSE results, including a record number of A level A*/A grades and GCSE grades 7-9. In March, it was announced that the School was in the top 2% of schools nationally for A level progress and Bethany School was one of the very few senior schools in the country to have been awarded the National Wellbeing award for Schools.

As we start a new academic year, the stress placed on pupils during assessments and examinations can be forgotten in the glow of successes from the A level and GCSE results days. At Bethany School, a great deal of thought goes into considering how pupil wellbeing can best be supported during the stressful exam period. We highlight the need to place the child at the centre of every decision and we believe that by doing so we will usually take the right approach. Key to our approach to pupil support during assessments and examinations is that strategies for promoting wellbeing are thought of and rehearsed at the start of the year so the routines and behaviours become normalised, offering maximum support to pupils when it comes to the examination period itself.

Bethany School’s 10-step approach to promoting assessment and examination wellbeing starts with the adage ‘planning and preparation prevents poor performance’:

1. Begin preparation early: considering individual pupil needs at the start of the year means that all elements of examination preparation have been rehearsed.

2. Provide pupil and parent sessions on effective revision and mindful preparation for the examinations, support this with regular updates to pupils and parents on effective revision strategies.

3. Pupils with coursework ‘pinch points’ are supported through after-hours access to academic facilities.

4. Pupils with examination access arrangements are given the opportunity to practise in an examination environment (e.g. if taking examinations alone, they will have the opportunity to do this prior to the examination).

5. Staff work on individual strategies for pupils with anxieties around the examination room itself, so that they can rehearse beforehand how they will deal with that “over the threshold” moment.

6. With day pupils, parents are encouraged to practise the examination day routine at home so that pupils feel comfortable with the pre-exam routine and can identify any areas of difficulty or stress beforehand.

7. Run examination warm-ups for pupils to receive specific advice in the run up to the examination and can talk through any anxieties with their tutors. The shared experience of these can minimise individual anxieties.

8. Support pupils to keep up their energy levels and prevent fatigue during examinations by providing water and a cereal bar or fruit in the examination warm-ups.

9. Offer boarding pupils the opportunity to unwind by opening School sports facilities in the evenings and at weekends and make available early morning swimming which helps pupils work and exercise when they are most effective.

10. On results days, have Tutors, Housemasters/Mistresses and the Senior Staff (including Head of Sixth Form and UCAS Coordinator for A level results) available to share in pupils successes but also to provide appropriate counsel and support for those who have missed out on what they had hoped to achieve.

What we have found over the past three years of running this programme is, that for those pupils whose anxieties are well known, their performance loss in examinations is minimised by practising and rehearsing their strategies for assessments and examinations. Furthermore, our focus on the individual benefits all because we are mindful as a whole School community at all times of the need to be supportive during these stressful moments in young people’s lives. However, it is not until after all issues arising from the Results Days have been resolved that we feel our job for the year is done. From very early on both Results Days we have Senior Staff and Tutors available to meet with pupils and families to provide valuable one to one counselling and support with next steps both for those who have exceeded their expectations but also for those who, for one reason or another, have not made the grade. Pupils and Parents are hugely grateful for the time that is spent with every individual who needs support on Results Days and, indeed, in the days afterwards.

Headmaster, Francie Healy, said: “I am delighted for each and every Bethany School pupil who have received their results this month. Behind every headline are many individual success stories which sum up our ethos as a School: we know every pupil very well and put their wellbeing first. It is so rewarding when you see young people who we have come to know so well achieve their potential and, very often, beyond it. Thanks are due to the fantastic and supportive teachers and parents who have helped our pupils achieve these successes.”

This article first appeared in the 2020 edition of Which School. You can read the e-guide here: