A Levels are largely the determiners of a person’s future choices. Mine are hanging over a precipice.

Returning to school post-pandemic hiatus has been a rollercoaster of uncertainty. With staggered start and finish times and restrictions on where pupils are allowed to be, this is unlike any other new school year I’ve previously experienced.

Vagueness and uncertainty roam the halls

Social distancing seems to be the least of pupils’ worries. Instead, teachers are being bombarded with questions as soon as we begin the school day. But they are just as clueless as the rest of us. Students and teachers up and down the country are desperate to know what will happen next summer. The vagueness concerning exams next year is causing pupils to feel overwhelmed because of the possibility of having to catch up on six months of lost time, with very little lenience given. It could of course turn out that the worrying was needless, if for instance the government announces plans to cut some of the content, but the uncertainty is a mentally destabilising influence on students like myself.

Many things are currently up in the air and speculative, with few concrete answers. The three possibilities most spoken about online are as follows: exams will be delayed, the content will be cut, or the exams will be cancelled. Yes, but which?

Recently, Labour spoke out in support of delaying next year’s exams. Every student I’ve spoken to up to this point detests the idea of exams being pushed back. We have had five months off school, and it seems ridiculous to push exams back by a couple of months more. I cannot effectively catch up five months’ worth of work in two months — it is nonsensical. Also, delaying exams will only leave less time for them to be marked. Which we can only assume will lead to results being pushed back, with the knock-on effect of start dates for universities, sixth form, and college (for those currently in year 11) being pushed back also.

The talk of content being cut does sound promising, but the key bit of information — how much?is missing.   If a sizeable portion of content is cut, it may be beneficial to us students. Of course, there’s always the possibility that they push the exams back as well as cut some content, which, again, has the potential to be useful. But the ongoing silence isn’t helping teachers and students do their work.

‘the work I received was nowhere near enough to get me through lockdown’

Due to the coronavirus lockdown I am behind in one of my studies, cutting the content seems like a reasonable solution to this problem. Yet, if an announcement is made in a month’s time that content is being cut, there’s always the possibility that vital lesson time has been wasted covering material no longer deemed relevant. How can we expect teachers to prepare lessons to the best of their abilities when there’s the looming possibility that the content may become inapplicable?

There is also speculation that the 2021 exams might be cancelled, the way they have been this year. This is getting very mixed reactions. I’m not completely opposed to the idea, but we need to make sure there’s a better system in place for our year so we don’t encounter the same problems experienced by our cohort this summer. Gavin Williamson told MPs that the government is determined for exams to go ahead next year, but there are calls in Wales for the 2021 exams to be based on teachers’ predictions again.

The ‘Progress 8’ score

This lack of certainty, together with the inadequate support received during the pandemic is having a detrimental effect on students. When it comes to government league tables and the Progress 8 score, my school ranks worst in the area (excluding SEN schools) for secondary performance, and second worst (excluding SEN schools) when it comes to 16 to 18 performance. My school has a Progress 8 score of ‘well below average’ for both. Now, whilst I of course understand that this has been an unprecedented time for everyone and that schools need to adjust, the support I received overall was lacklustre. By the end of the first week of lockdown, most of my teachers had managed to set some sort of work. However, it took a complaint from me a month into lockdown to receive any kind of support from one teacher. Most days I had to scour the Internet and textbooks to find work to do because what I received was nowhere near enough to get me through lockdown. Fortunately, I am privileged enough to have a laptop and textbooks at home, without having to rely on the school’s resources. Friends from other comprehensive schools have received better online support, with work set daily. What I received in a month some of my friends received within a few days. Moreover, numerous members of staff have left, and at times it feels as though I’ve returned to a new school. 

I’m certain countless students up and down the country have found themselves in a similar position these past few months. But despite the surface similarities, it’s vital that whatever the government and exam boards decide they must understand that students aren’t ‘all in the same boat’. Those privately educated are already at a significant advantage (as they would be regardless). While those who have received underwhelming support during the lockdown months are even farther behind their fortunate counterparts.

The uncertainty and disorganisation is taking a toll on students. We read articles debating the various possibilities daily, and read about our year group being talked about as if we’re lab rats. But we are young human beings with our future on the line.

All of us are preparing as best as we can this academic year, but we cannot prepare adequately when we’re not even sure what we’re preparing for.

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