My friends, we find ourselves in uncharted waters. I've spent this week telling all my students that, no matter what, their exams would absolutely be going ahead and we have to carry on our preparations as normal. I said this because... I genuinely believed it couldn't possibly happen any other way.
I watched the statement to the house by Gavin Williamson (the Education Secretary) earlier, nodding along at the expected closure of all schools from this Friday. As the cancellation of exams was announced I genuinely watched open mouthed. It cannot be overemphasised how unprecedented this is. I cannot think of another time when examinations have not gone ahead - even during wartime, education continued to function and children took final examinations.
I am genuinely devastated and upset for those of you who have come on what is an intense journey together over the last two years. We've been through it all - the daunting prospect of 20,000 word reports and coding challenges for Year 13 students, the endless repetitive practise of past papers to hone our exam technique and ensure that everyone recieves the recognition their ability deserves. We've been through the lows of mock exams where some of you may have felt like you were staring at a sheer cliff face with no obvious way of climbing it when results came back far lower than you may have anticipated.
Then there's been that slow dawning, especially in Year 11, that with the right focus, the right amount of dedication we were getting there. My Year 11 group this year have done things they never thought possible and please, understand this - you are an absolute credit to yourselves and I have recognised every one of your efforts. It has been so obvious the sheer hard work you've put in alone, with your families and together as a group and we've seen the fruits of your labour. In the last mock window your results all improved, you'd not just begun to climb that seemingly impossible cliff face, you were nearly over the top and in the clear.
We've all put in so much of ourselves to prepare for what is undeinably one of the most significant points in any persons life. The process of taking your final exams and recieving those results is life changing and a defining moment for each student as an individual and to have that opportunity taken away is unimaginable. Whether you achieve "academic excellence" and sweep grade 9's across the board, or whether you walk away with a deep sense of unfulfilment and grades that you may not be happy with, it cannot be denied that those feelings set a course for the rest of your life. In some it will breed a renewed sense of determination to succeed regardless of what a piece of paper may say, in others it is a validation and vindication for years of hard work and sacrifice which no doubt secures the path to further education and future success.
The fact that you are going to be awarded a grade from "somewhere" means that the next step in your life is probably not compromised in any way - you will be able to move on to college, 6th form, apprenticeships or elsewhere, but it is what you've lost in these coming months that can never be regained which saddens me the most - you are victims of a devastating world crisis that just happened to pass you by at the wrong time.
There are wider implications here too - it is not unreasonable to suggest that the country will find itself winding down, locking down even further over the coming weeks. It would not be absurd to think in two weeks time we could find ourselves in an Italy/China/Spain situation where the streets are empty.
You are at an absolutely golden time in your lives, especially from a social point of view. The time you spend with your friends and, dare I say it, even us as staff in school, makes a huge impression on all of you in your most formative of years. There is every chance that you will miss the chance to have those final goodbyes, the leaving speeches and assemblies and the prom nights. These are the moments you've earned, that you deserve that will no doubt become collateral damage in this situation. I would urge you all to find sensible alternatives! Year 11 and 13 are a time not only of looking to the future, but also of closure on part of your past - and what a time it has been.
It wasn't supposed to be like this and we are clearly not going to be back in school this academic year - if exams have been cancelled then the government is clear - their models show there's no way we can get back together within a few weeks, it is going to be a period of months.
I would like to take this opportunity to emphasise to all of my year 11 and 13 students what a genuine pleasure and privilege it has been to have the opportunity to guide you through two of the most important years you can have in your lives. In Year 11 I honestly felt like we were going to do something special this year, you were really about to pull it out of the bag when it mattered the most - every single one of you without exception. I'd like to thank you sincerely for your efforts and also for choosing my subject (and for being my self help group when I'm telling you stories about nothing at all). I hope to see many of you next year for A-Level.
To Year 13 - you are genuinely one of the kindest, close knit groups of students I have ever known and it's actually a positive to know that your routes to higher education are now practically guaranteed - you deserve it, even if your coursework was horrendous in the main. I will still never get over the games where "you can kill the enemies" only everything is invisible and suddenly you die. You really did invent a new genre of gaming - frustration through absurdity.
Let's finish on a positive note - you are out of school now to save lives. There cannot be any misunderstanding here, cut out the noise of the ill informed and those who are mad enough to actually still read and believe newspapers - the science is clear. Closing schools is part of a much wider effort to slow society down, we are trying to prevent vulnerable people from dying of a disease we will soon be able to cure with vaccines. You are sacrificing your time now so these people may have the time they deserve to spend with their families and friends without the fear of being in a life threatening condition in hospital. In my opinion, whilst I don't want schools to close, it is the right thing to do if it saves lives and stops the NHS from reaching saturation.
We are living in a time when no one knows what to do. The top scientists and medical experts across the world are learning as they go along. The economy world wide is on its knees and people are living in abject fear - fear of the disease itself, fear for their children and families, fear of losing their jobs, livelihoods and income. All of these fears are very real. Fear makes us behave irrationally and do things that, from the outside, can appear stupid, odd or selfish.
Be kind to each other - before you voice an opinion, ask yourself what underlies their behaviour, why are they doing the things they're doing? Make it your priority to stick together, to look out for each other and above all look out not only for your physical health but your mental health as well - stress is high right now and your parents, carers and loved ones may look ok on the outside but on the inside many may be terrified. Be mindful of that when you're raging about something insignificant and give people at home a chance to breathe, take stock and work out what to do next.
We'll survive, but my friends the world is about to look very different to the one we knew only a few months ago.
Stay safe, stay kind.
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