This week, our Year 13 students began their period of study leave ahead of their final A Level and BTEC exams. We had their Leavers’ Assembly on Wednesday afternoon, which was planned and led by our incredible Student Leadership Team. They had put so much effort into editing videos of all students in the year group saying goodbye and teachers offering their well wishes, live mobile phone voting for some heart-warming student awards (for which they had bought little trophies to present to winners) and a fabulous dance performance from our sixth form dancers. Our student leaders spoke with such pride and emotion about their experiences throughout the sixth form and their genuine care for one another and gratitude to the staff was an absolute joy to witness. Following the karaoke finale of ‘We’re All in This Together’ with the whole year group on stage, we took a last year group picture outside and enjoyed ice creams, with students signing keepsake books along with a few tears!
As I did this time last year, I decided to write the year group a letter and read this to them as my speech at the assembly. Given the unique experience this cohort have had, I thought it only right to acknowledge this and to give them an opportunity to reflect. The intention here was both to show our students how proud they ought to be of themselves, but also to demonstrate how much we have really cared about their sixth form experience throughout. I wanted them to see that they have already overcome so much throughout the last two years, so these final exams are absolutely achievable. It is often difficult to communicate this to a large group of students: how do you reach all 150 students and make them feel that it’s personal and that they matter? I hope that the letter will help them to feel this. This year, our Headteacher also wrote a fantastic and inspirational poem for the year group, which she read to them at the assembly. Alongside a lovely speech from their Head of Year, and the impressive content the Student Leadership Team had put together, it really was the special occasion it ought to be.
I have included my letter to the year group below – some of this I took from my 2021 version in terms of the impact of Covid, but much of it is unique to the experiences of this impressive cohort. All students will receive a printed copy of the letter as a keepsake that, I hope, at least some of them may look back on nostalgically in years to come.
Marking the end of students' formal schooling is so important. Many of our students are continuing to attend lessons throughout study leave and lots of them have been talking about how lovely their final assembly was. These sorts of events are always absolutely worth the effort they take to organise. We couldn't be more proud of these students and wish them all the very best with their exams; the final hurdle in what has been an eventful sixth form experience.
Dear Year 13 students,
This time last year I stood here as Director of Sixth Form in my first Year 13 Leavers’ Assembly at NSG. Whilst today is my second time talking to a departing Year 13 group, it feels like the first time in many ways, as you are the first year-group I have seen through the whole of their sixth form experience at NSG. I wanted to write to you to let you know why I think you’re all so wonderful and why you have epitomised my philosophy that sixth form students should be seen as role models.
Your sixth form experience has been far from ‘normal’. That you have weathered the storms of 2020-2022 so well is incredibly impressive. You may remember the news coverage of ‘lost learning, ‘gaps’ and the need for a ‘recovery curriculum’ throughout the pandemic and the periods of school closure and remote learning. The headlines described young people as a ‘lost generation’. 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 were the first year group to miss out on taking external GCSE exams; in fact, your last undisrupted year of education was when you were in Year 10! With the uncertainty of GCSE grading being decided by Centre Assessed Grades, you started at NSG Sixth Form having been through a really turbulent few months, and having not had the opportunity to complete a proper in-person induction to the sixth form. After managing the huge transition that moving from Year 11 into Year 12 represents, you settled into life in the sixth form remarkably well, in spite of Covid bubbles and one-way systems! You threw yourselves 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. Mask-wearing in school became A THING. When Christmas was approaching and the Kent variant appeared, concerns grew about a return to lockdown. Yet, throughout this time, staff consistently commented about the level of commitment you demonstrated and your attendance rate was the same as Year 7 – 97% - which is unheard of for a sixth form year group!
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’ birthdays and the sort of social life you had imagined when sixth form began. The government announced that exams for Year 13 were cancelled and that they were consulting on their replacement, which made you worry about what this might mean for your year group and exams in 2022. Whilst we tried to show you that we missed your presence in school, with continued live lessons, contact from tutors and your February half term ‘mini movie night’ packages sent in the post, we couldn’t wait to welcome you back into school. You returned to school in March and soon began the ‘Future Pathways’ work in tutor time, preparing for your post-18 applications, without knowing whether your exams in Year 13 would even happen. During this time, many of you showed incredible kindness in caring for others, donating to food banks or volunteering at vaccination centres. Many of you experienced significant challenges at home, through ill health, unemployment or bereavements within the family.
But, you all kept going….
Year 13 began and soon vaccinations became available and life began to get back to something more resembling the normality of a time before we had even heard the word ‘Covid’. You continued to work hard, eventually got your UCAS applications sent, and soon enough PPE exams were on the horizon and you were starting to hear that exams would go ahead and that you may be told some ‘advanced information’ about the topics on your exams. Again, you coped with this period of uncertainty remarkably well, and continued to get involved in initiatives to help others and have your voices heard, whether this was through your incredible efforts to help with our food bank collection, the organisation and attendance of the ‘Coffee, Cake and Confidence’ café, or raising money for charity days. Many of you attended university interviews and auditions, with lots of these taking place online - again, you responded to this new way of working with absolute grit and resilience.
You are now beginning your final exam period, with some of you already having completed some of your subjects last week. Whilst this no doubt brings a huge amount of anxiety, I hope it also brings with it a sense of relief that in the next few weeks, you will have made it through! Then, your next chapter beyond NSG awaits – this is so exciting, and is what sixth form is all about – setting you up to go out into the world as fantastic young people who will make a positive difference. I hope that, along with today’s celebration, many of you will join us for your prom to mark the end of this incredible journey you have all taken.
This description is far from a detailed explanation of your experience, and I appreciate that this is incredibly generalised. Individually, your experiences of the last two-and-a bit years 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 simply 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.
I want to take this opportunity to thank some key people, without whom you wouldn’t have been able to achieve the incredible things you have. Firstly, I’d like to thank your wonderful Student Leadership Team. They have been simply the most committed, proactive and selfless student team I have ever had the privilege of working with and we are all very lucky that they have contributed so much to our school community. Secondly, I’d like to thank your fantastic Head of Year, Mr Wynn, who has been a constant support for you all throughout your time in the sixth form and whose humour and generosity of spirit I know so many of you love. I’d also like to thank Bev, who is always there for you all and has kept many of you (and me!) going throughout the tough times you have faced. Your tutors and mentors have also been fantastic in supporting you throughout remote learning and UCAS applications, so I’d like us to thank them too. I want to give a special mention to Mrs Nicholson, who has put so much time into supporting your wellbeing throughout the sixth form; it was her idea to create the Wellbeing Google Classroom and she has continued to update this, as well as putting on all her workshops and providing amazing 1:1 support for so many of you. I want to also thank all your sixth form teachers, who have coped with the ever-changing landscape of Key Stage 5 throughout this time (including an Ofsted inspection!) and have constantly provided fantastic curriculum delivery for you all; we are very lucky indeed to have such a strong sixth form team.
Lastly, I want to thank you. I know some of you much better than others, and there will be many achievements I have not even known about throughout your time in the sixth form (of course, if I know, they will find our way onto the sixth form social media pages!). What I do know is that you will go on to be a great success in whatever you choose to do and I hope that you keep in touch and let us know about your many future achievements.
‘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.
Lost generation? No.
Role models? Absolutely.