GCSE Results Day 2021: What are your options once you've got your grades?

With no exams and teacher-assessed grades, your GCSE results were probably no surprise.

But once you’ve received your marks, what happens next?

Now your GCSE grades have been confirmed, let’s look at your options.

Appeal or accept?

If your grades were lower than you expected, you might want to appeal.

However, there are very limited grounds for appeal this year so you need to talk to your teachers/tutors before making a decision.

To make an appeal you have to first ask your school to check for errors before escalating the appeal to the exam board, who will then consider whether grades were a ‘reasonable’ academic judgement. You can also appeal if your school did not take into account evidence to reach your grade.

See ‘Appeal against an exam result’ at gov.uk.

NOTE: The exams watchdog has warned that grades could go down as well as up – and borderline grades are unlikely to be changed.

Resit or retake?

If you didn’t achieve at least a Grade 4 in maths and/or English you’ll have to resit your GCSE to study A-levels, to embark on many apprenticeships and also for most universities.

Many job offers also require these grades as a minimum. Currently, it is expected that there will be a full series of autumn exams (yes – actual exams rather than
teacher- assessed grades or TAGs) in the autumn.

However, only resit in November if you missed your required grade by a few marks, as you will not have long to study and revise. The alternative is to retake the exam next summer.

Retakes can sometimes be done alongside study for BTecs and A-levels. Or if your grades have been impacted by Covid, you can study a year-long full-time GCSE programme, which allows you to study up to four subjects. Perhaps you can add some extra subjects, too. Once again, ask your teachers/tutors for advice.

Not every school will allow you to retake your GCSE English and maths next year -and yet you may have to return to your school (from college or another school) for your resit in the autumn.

Make sure you understand the process (applying for the exam etc.) before deciding on your next step.

TIP: When picking a school or college for retakes, check the support on offer and find out what the pass rate is. You don’t want to spend another year trying to gain a maths CGSE only to fail again.

NOTE: To embark on a GCSE retake programme you will generally need to have Grade 3 at GCSE. If your results were below a 3 and English and/or maths really is a challenge, consider an English or numeracy Functional Skills qualification instead.

Stay or go?

Some students will not have a choice. If you haven’t got the grades to enter your school sixth form or to study the subjects you wish to take, then you’ll have to select another school or a local college.

While some sixth forms insist on a Grade 6 to study a particular A-level, others are more flexible in their approach.

Also some schools have a limited number of subject choices so you may have to move sixth forms to study the combination you want or need.

TIP: Before making a decision, look at where you want to go after sixth form. If it’s to uni, look for a school or college that will enable you to study the subjects needed for your degree.

Visit ucas.com and search for the A-level entry requirements for the degree courses you hope to study.

Vocational or academic?

If you prefer more hands-on learning to academic subjects, then check out local sixth form colleges.

Few schools offer beauty therapy, engineering, catering or health and social care and these can lead directly to a career in a particular sector.

Also you will need to study in a setting that has the right facilities – large laboratories, industrial kitchens etc.

TIP: Check if the college or school has links with local employers. Gaining a qualification might not be enough to work in a particular job as employers also want candidates who have experience.

Learning or earning?

If you really struggle with studying and are passionate about a career path (or desperate to earn and work), then search for an Intermediate apprenticeship (these start at Level 2 or GCSE level). They are available in sectors such as hospitality (barista) and hairdressing.

NOTE: You may need to embark on a traineeship first before being able to enrol on an apprenticeship – particularly if you have no work experience and need help with basic skills.

These provide a work placement of 70 hours or more, help with the skills you’ll need for an apprenticeship and support with English and maths, too.

However, you won’t be paid. Once you’ve completed this you can then apply for an apprenticeship and start earning.

Find out more about traineeships and apprenticeships at

TIP: Remember, colleges also offer apprenticeships – and taking this pathway means you will have more support to find one.

Try something new

T-levels are the new alternatives to apprenticeships and other 16 to 19 courses.

Equivalent to three A-levels, they include at least 45 days of industry placement as well as college/school study – so students are equipped with the skills needed in their particular industry and are prepared for the world of work or further training or study.

The only drawback is that relatively few are on offer (many will start in 2022). Building services engineering, digital business services, health, healthcare science and education and childcare are among the first to be offered.

Find a T-level by searching tlevels.gov.uk/students/find.

NEED HELP? Ring to speak to a careers adviser at the exam results hotline on 0800 100 900 or visit nationalcareers.service.gov.uk. You can ask about resists and retakes, apprenticeships and vocational qualifications and anything else you might need help with.

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