From entrance papers to GCSEs, A-Levels and beyond, exams are a fact of life for students up and down the country. But how do schools prepare young people for the trials and tribulations of testing and how important are good grades to future success? We spoke to Anthony Kirk-Burgess, headmaster at Hampshire’s Rookwood School, to find out…

Anthony Kirk-Burgess, headmaster at Rookwood School

How did your most recent crop of exam age students fare?
We were very pleased with our latest GCSE results, especially given the changes to the system in English and Maths.  91% of our students achieved five or more A*-C/9-4 and over half of all results were grade B/6 or higher.  As a genuinely non-selective school, we have students with a wide variety of abilities.  Therefore, we focus on adding value: working with each individual student to achieve the highest grades possible.  We are equally proud of those students who achieved A* and 9 as we are of those who worked hard and, with the right support in school, exceeded their own expectations.  Often for these students it is about getting those grades which open doors for their future careers that would otherwise be shut.  This is consistently shown in our independently-calculated ‘value-added’ which this year was, on average, half a grade per student per GCSE.

How do you put students at ease during the exam season?
It is more essential than ever that schools prepare their students’ mental health alongside their academic studies.  Exams are getting more stressful: the removal of coursework so that everything is examined at the end of the course, the additional content that needs to be learnt and the greater emphasis on more searching essay-style questions, plus the escalating costs of higher education which puts even more pressure on students to get the right grades, means that today’s exam students do have a tough time, to say the least.

At Rookwood, we place an equal focus on providing excellent pastoral care as we do on ensuring the highest quality of teaching and learning.  This is done through formal sessions during our PSHE and assembly programme on coping with stress and other pressures, by providing extracurricular and sporting opportunities so that students can unwind and relax, and through a culture in the staffroom of getting to know each individual student so that our students feel valued and supported.

Find out more about Rookwood School at

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