Michelle Dornan sits at the table and shuffles the envelopes in front of her.
“I’ve seen their results,” the data manager at Woolwich Polytechnic School says. “I’ve seen which pupils should be delighted. But I can’t give that away.”
She is among the members of staff at the south-east London comprehensive helping to hand out GCSE results, and to congratulate and support pupils as they find out their grades.
Year 11 pupil Anthony Day approaches the table. “Good luck!” Ms Dornan says, handing him his envelope. Then, as he turns to leave: “Don’t disappear! Open it here! We want to know.”
Anthony, however, takes his envelope into a corner. Moments later, he emerges, smiling. “Yeah, I’m pleased,” he says. “When I picked up the envelope, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to open it.” He glances down at the sheet of paper in his hand. “It’s a bit of a shock, really. I wasn’t expecting to do so well.”
Nearby, his classmate Chinonso Eze is more sanguine. “I wasn’t really worried as such,” he says of his clutch of mostly As and Bs. “What’s in the envelope’s in the envelope.”
For their teachers, it is a moment to savour. “This is the reason for teaching, isn’t it?” says head of science Lisa Kalicharan. “You work all hours of the day for this. It’s just a bit of paper, but it’s not. It’s what their future holds for them. It’s giving them opportunities.”
A few boys, however, are not smiling. “For some of them, it’s a growing-up experience,” says headteacher Tim Plumb. “They come in to pick up their results without their parents, they get disappointing results, and they have to grow up overnight. It’s hardcore.”
Woolwich Polytechnic staff are on hand to discuss pupils’ results and help them to work out their choices for next year.
And teachers are prepared to see the stories behind the results. For example, a boy who only arrived in England two years ago was predicted As in science. His lack of language skills meant that he actually received a B and a C.
School counsellor Emma Warner is keen to celebrate such stories as the successes they are. “The boys that I’ve spoken to have exceeded their own expectations,” she says. “There’s always a lot of emphasis on As and A*s. But, actually, each child has their personal journey.”
Watch results day at Woolwich Polytechnic here: