Open Letter to Year 13
Having led in two different school sixth forms during the pandemic, I feel there is a message all Year 13 students need to hear...
Dear Year 13 students,
I am writing to you to acknowledge the final weeks of your sixth form experience and to congratulate you for the many qualities I have witnessed you demonstrate over the last two years. You have epitomised my philosophy that sixth form students should be seen as role models and I wanted to take this opportunity to explain why.
I feel this particularly needs communicating because of the media coverage of the pandemic and its impact on education and learning. Talk has been very much of ‘lost learning', ‘gaps’ and the need for a ‘recovery curriculum’. The headlines below demonstrate this negative coverage of the pandemic’s effect on you as learners and your future prospects. I dispute this sentiment wholeheartedly.
I hope to convince you that this narrative created by the government and the media simply is not true.
Your entire sixth form experience has been interrupted by the pandemic. You got six months into Year 12 when the first period of remote learning began. After managing the huge transition that moving from Year 11 into Year 12 represents, you suddenly found yourselves at home, being asked to complete tasks by your subject teachers remotely. This sudden change was coupled with the fact that you could no longer socialise with your friends, many of whom you will have become really close to in the first few months of Year 12 as you coped with the transition to Key Stage 5 together. You may have found yourselves adapting to a combination of set work from textbooks, online learning and ‘live’ lessons. You may have been asked to look after younger siblings during this time whilst your parents were at work or you may have been in school, as the child of a key worker or because your school was trying to support you with your learning or other needs. You may have taken on a part-time job because someone in your family had lost theirs or was furloughed and you felt you needed to help out. You may have completed assessments towards the end of Year 12, feeling concerned that you had not covered your course content sufficiently to do yourselves justice. You watched on as Centre Assessed Grades were issued to students in the year above, wondering if you might end up in the same position. You might have had to cope with the worry of illness in your family or anxiety about the pandemic. Tragically, some of you suffered bereavement during this time, perhaps without being able to travel or see extended family members.
Even after the welcome return to school in September, life was strange, with bubbles in place and different systems to follow. You threw yourselves back into school life, working hard and contributing in other ways, whether it be in collecting for charity events or raising awareness of issues such as climate change, Black Lives Matter or personal safety. Your voices were heard regarding these important issues, even though restrictions remained. You may have been contacted through Track and Trace to self-isolate for fortnights at a time. Talk about whether your final exams in Year 13 might be altered in some way was emerging and the increased social restrictions in November meant this was far from a return to normality; all of this whilst you were completing your post-18 applications, having to make decisions that affect your future. Mask-wearing in school became A THING. When Christmas was approaching and the Kent variant appeared, concerns grew about a return to lockdown.
You then entered into your second period of remote learning and third period of lockdown in January; this time with far more ‘live’ lessons and whole days spent in front of your device during the winter. You missed out on in-person celebrations of your friends’ 18th birthdays and the sort of social life you had imagined when sixth form began. The government announced that exams were cancelled and that they were consulting on their replacement. Again, you led the way, with 50% of respondents to the consultation coming from your age group. This period of uncertainty went on for the whole of the term. You returned to school in March knowing that you would be assessed differently, but probably not knowing exactly what this meant. You coped with rounds of assessment, revising as best you could whilst responding to university offers or attending interviews for apprenticeships. During this time, many of you showed incredible kindness in caring for others, donating to food banks or volunteering at vaccination centres.
You will now be nearing the end of your assessment period or may have even finished your courses. Whilst this no doubt brings a sense of relief, the uncertainty around this year’s assessments and how this might impact on post-18 offers has not subsided. You hopefully have some ‘leavers’ celebrations planned, albeit in a slightly different way to what might have been planned pre-Covid.
This description is far from a detailed account of your experience, and I appreciate that this is incredibly generalised. Individually, your experiences of the last eighteen months will have varied widely, with many of you coping with far more than I have outlined.
What I hope the above does prove, though, is that you should be incredibly proud of yourselves. Just look at what you have had to contend with! You have gritted your teeth and kept going throughout. In doing so you have gained so many skills and matured in a way that previous sixth form students have not had to. You have shown amazing resilience, adaptability, leadership, compassion and generosity. I have no doubt that this has made you stronger people who are better prepared for post-18 life than any of your predecessors were at this stage in Year 13.
‘Lost generation’ was the headline. The word 'lost' can be defined as ‘unable to find one’s way’. Your experience demonstrates the complete opposite of this definition. In my view, you have done nothing but find your way throughout the sixth form, in what has been the most uncertain experience of 16-19 education for several generations. The stereotypical ‘bad reputation’ of teenagers surely can no longer apply.
A British Medical Journal project regarding young people’s experience of the pandemic concluded the following: “Young people were concerned about their future, their family and broader society, consistent with a high level of moral development. They want to be active participants in social recovery, including concepts around return to school but require appropriate information and a means by which their voices can be heard.” 
Lost generation? No. Role models? Absolutely.
Larcher V, Dittborn M, Linthicum J On behalf of GOSH Young People's Forum, et al Young people’s views on their role in the COVID-19 pandemic and society’s recovery from it Archives of Disease in Childhood 2020;105:1192-1196.