All their secondary school life, from the age of 11 up to 16, children in England are working towards one goal; the GCSE examinations.
These are the exams you can’t leave school without. These are the exams that are your passage to A-Levels. Without an English and Maths GCSE, you cannot go on to study anything else. They are probably the most important exams a young person is likely to take.
Most study at least nine or ten subjects. It’s gruelling, It’s tough. Experts say they are getting easier. They’re not. Any 16-year-old will tell you that.
My daughter, like every Year 11 child in the country, missed out on sitting her GCSEs this year due to the Coronavirus pandemic and the resulting lockdown. It was a huge shock when the exams were cancelled. It was something so surreal and unprecedented I could never have imagined it happening, let alone to one of my own children.
You would think the country would be full of 16-year-olds jumping for joy at the news the exams were off.
This was far from the case. Most of the parents I’ve spoken to told me of their child’s devastation at the news. Afterall, they had been working towards this moment, training for it for the last five years. They’d sat the mock examinations. Many had faced a huge wake-up call in time for the ‘real thing’. Most, like my daughter, were psyched up and ready to put their all into the next few months. To cram-revise like crazy, pull it out of the bag, prove to themselves they had what it takes.
To have all that taken away from you. To never have the chance to prove the doubters wrong, to prove to yourself you could get the grades you needed on your own merit, was a huge blow.
The GCSE class of 2020 will never have that chance. They will always wonder, could I have worked harder during the last year, turned in better coursework, shown the teachers I could do this? Are these grades I’ve been awarded a true reflection of what I’m really capable of?
These young adults have learned a valuable lesson through this experience. They’ve learned the importance of always giving your all, doing your best in whatever task you are required to do. They’ve learned you never know what is around the corner and you should always make the best of everything, work hard, play hard, live each moment, don’t sit around waiting for things to happen to you. Go out and grab it with both hands.
Perhaps we have all learned these lessons, but none more so than these young, impressionable individuals.
For my daughter, it is now a waiting game. We think she will get the grades to go back to school for A-Levels. She will do okay and one day, she will leave all of this behind her. For now, she has to ride out these next few months not quite knowing where she is. Currently, she has no real purpose, nothing to work towards, no reason to keep studying, but at the same time not having anything else to do either.
She was supposed to complete work experience this summer. That isn’t happening either. She was looking forward to that post-exam summer of fun, that feeling of ‘we’ve done it!’ the weight lifted, the pride of achievement whatever the grades.
As a parent I feel helpless. I can’t put this right. I can’t change things. All I can do is help her to find strength and meaning from all of this.
Will they be as proud of the grades they are assigned for these exams as they would have been had they actually sat them? I’m not sure. They are the Covid generation and will always be known as such. Their lives have been touched by this virus in a way that does not involve death, but very much encompasses loss and the accompanying grief that goes with that.