Words by Ruby Bishop
As the coronavirus outbreak surged, Britain's schools closed their doors to most pupils from Friday, March 20, with far-reaching consquences for both pupils, parents and teachers. With summer GCSEs and A-level exams were cancelled, the Government announced grades would be awarded based on teacher assessment and school performance.
How has the indefinite shutdown affected students at Faversham's Abbey and Queen Elizabeths schools, especially those who were preparing for exams? What impact has it had our town's class of 2020, their education and their lives?
We asked our two young journalists Ruby Bishop and Lily Thompson to report on what the pandemic has meant for them and their fellow students. Here are their stories:
It’s my belief that students dream of not having to go to school and sit their exams. As a school pupil I would rather be relaxing at home, hanging out with friends, and spending time doing things that I enjoy.
But what happens when that dream becomes a reality? And how do local GCSE students in Faversham feel about their new life in ‘Lockdown’? So, I put this question to my fellow GCSE students. . .
“I am relieved”
“I was very relieved that I did not have to take my exams because I felt very behind and didn’t feel ready as exams bring a huge amount of stress. To pass the time I have been spending time with my family and going on walks and looking after my puppies. I am really feeling like I can relax and take time to work on myself during this time. ”
“It’s really made me realise what is important in life – and it’s not exams.”
“I found out through a news article or a meme. But I didn't realise this was it until I had a goodbye message from a teacher, so I was crying from losing contact with people at first. Now I'm glad that we don't need to take exams because it has really made me realise what is important in life - and it's definitely not 'exams'. To pass the time I've been talking to new people and video-calling my friends to check up with them.”
“I am scared for my family members”
“I am scared for my family members. Especially the older ones that are high risk. I'm happy with being assessed by my predicted grades as I didn't want the stress from exams, and I like not having to go to school. Daily life is getting boring, I have been watching films and walking the dogs as that's all I can do.”
“I have mixed feelings about not taking my GCSEs this year.”
“To pass time I've been painting and baking. I have also set a goal to maintain my fitness and stay healthy by doing daily workouts. I won't get the experience of completing my final exam after all the revision and hard work leading up to it. We'll never know the results we could've gotten if we'd have taken the exams when we were supposed to. However, since I don't have to do the exams, I am stress free and I don't feel the pressure. I think that not going to school during this time... is what needed to happen to prevent further spread of the virus.'
“It was a huge shock”
“When Boris announced GCSEs would be cancelled it was a huge shock. All the hard work since Year 9 was boiled down into nothing in a matter of minutes. Working now felt pointless and irrelevant. It certainly took a couple of days for the news to sink in. It still feels odd, to be honest, it feels like a summer holiday. We are now approaching the grip of this pandemic with hundreds of people dying daily and the end looking very far in the future.”
“Initially I felt gutted and confused. I had so many questions”
“Initially I felt gutted and confused. I stayed up that night till late trying to get my head round the situation. I was so worried that my grades would be forgotten about and all my work meant nothing.
However, my thoughts have changed about it as I understand how my grades are going to be given to me and all my questions were answered by the teachers. I now feel relieved and a bit anxious about what grades I will get but I am not as worried now.
Our current situation has caused teenagers and specifically GCSE leavers to have mixed feelings.
The closure of local schools has closed has left students feeling both confused and a little shocked. But there is also relief and elation as, for first time since they began in 1988, GCSEs have been cancelled.
But I think most of us have found that our priorities lay not with our GCSE results but with the people in our lives and the community. The national and even global decision to 'lock down’ businesses and schools alike is crucial to save potentially thousands of lives. The sudden change was hard at first but now it seems that many teenagers in Faversham are using their time constructively and creatively, trying new hobbies, relaxing, spending time with our families, and communicating with friends online - but that’s nothing new!
QUEEN ELIZABETH'S SCHOOL - LIVING IN A LOCKDOWN
Words by: Lily Thompson
As an A-level student at Queen Elizabeth’s, I have experienced the measures taken by the school school to protect students and staff.
By the time the coronavirus had reached the town, QE had already prepared and reacted. The newly-appointed Sixth Form Head Team raised awareness within the school by putting up posters to remind students how to stay safe. The Head Team provide an example for the rest of the school and taking action at such an important time really helped the school unite to face the unclear future.
Continued handwashing was encouraged for staff and students alike to reduce and minimise any risk of catching or spreading the virus. Regulations were also enforced which required students to have left the premises by 4:30 pm to allow for an effective cleaning of the school before the next day, ensuring the continued safety of everyone there.
Unfortunately, this outbreak also resulted in QE having to cancel and postpone various school trips, including two foreign exchanges, a Model United Nations trip to Bath, a Year Nine trip to Ypres, an A-level Geography trip to Barcelona and a mountain biking trip to Wales. The school is working hard to rearrange as many of these trips as possible to later dates; extra-curricular experiences and learning is really important for students to enjoy and learn beyond the classroom. QE recognises the importance of these trips and is keen to see them take place in the future.
The news that A-level and GCSE examinations would be cancelled obviously had a big impact on the school and its students, and for some, the last few days of their secondary school experience at QE came earlier than expected.
QE ensured that all students and staff were made aware of the extreme changes, and all year groups were briefed on how their educational experiences were about to take an interesting turn. The Heads of Years assured their students that work would be accessible via Google Classroom and that they would be kept up-to-date with any adjustments to this temporary new system.
For some year groups, this virus outbreak has had more serious consequences. Years 11 and 13 were due to take summer exams and after that, either leave QE or return for Sixth Form.
“It’s lucky we did some GCSEs last year. QE have communicated everything with us sufficiently and lots of teachers have reassured us that we’ll get the grades we deserve.”
Year 11 GCSE student
“After knowing my exam had been cancelled it led to a few weeks of uncertainty. However, it is important that the health of students and their families is protected by not going ahead with large public exams.”
Year 12 A-level student
Other year groups will be missing summer mocks, which will have varying effects, especially for Year 12, whose mock grades would have been essential for university applications,
The closure of the school has also interrupted plans for Leavers’ Day and Proms to allow students to properly say goodbye to staff and their fellow year group. Inevitably, these events had to be cancelled, however QE made sure that these celebrations could still take place. On their last day at the school, Year 13 were given a farewell breakfast, where the students had the chance to see photographs from over their last seven years at QE. Members of staff gave speeches and the students said their final goodbyes before they were given the rest of the day off school.
Later in the day, Year 11 had a Leavers’ Lunch in the hall. With party hats and plenty of photos, the students had an enjoyable lunch among their classmates and teachers in order to say a proper goodbye. Year 11’s were also given the opportunity to sign shirts, which has been a student tradition for many years!
Finally, on Friday 20 March, Queen Elizabeth’s closed until further notice. Both teachers and students are maintaining work via Google Classroom in order to make distance learning as effective as possible. Teachers have also been active in aiding students, from quick replies to emails to regular posting of work and support online. Some teachers have even created podcasts for students to follow as if in a live lesson. QE also have a Twitter account, which has been booming with advice and opportunities for pupils, including various fitness programmes, French challenges and house competitions. With so many formats of learning being provided, it’s clear that QE are working really hard to maintain the high-quality education given to its students.
“Google Classroom has meant that we can easily access the work our teachers are setting us and also makes it easy to communicate with them. The way QE have dealt with the situation is good - this system has meant that I can continue my A-Level learning without missing out.”
Year 12 A-level student
So far, distance learning seems to be the most prominent way for students to continue with their secondary education while staying safe at home.
The school is also providing continuous support for students about well-being and staying sharp during this period. In addition, QE is providing a workspace to those whose parents or guardians are key workers; this is available to them during both school time and holidays.
This outbreak is incredibly new and unpredictable; nobody has ever experienced anything like this before. The noble efforts across the country by schools is helping to contain and conquer this virus while keeping up with the education of the next generation. We will have to wait and see what the future holds for students, so keep working hard until we can safely return to studies at school.