‘BREAKING UK schools to close’
That’s what the banner says at the bottom of the screen. I’m alone in my room in my boarding house on Wednesday, my guitar in my lap as I was having a jam session while I waited for the daily update, live from BBC news. And there it was. All schools were to close on Friday. Well, shit. This is real. This is actually happening right now.
I go on our year group chat on WhatsApp, as Boris Johnson’s (also known as BoJo) voice continues speaking from my laptop, though I’m no longer paying full attention to him. That’s until someone says on the group chat – ‘HE JUST SAID EXAMS WILL NOT TAKE PLACE AS NORMAL’. I look back at the screen, and soon enough I see it on the banner. Exams to not take place in May and June. People are reacting on the group chat – several ‘OMG’s and ‘What the fuck’s, questions about how we will get our A level grades and what it all means. My reaction is a tongue sticking out emoji, and I explain myself with ‘Sorry this is all quite exciting’ followed by a laughing crying emoji.
At this point I’m kind of gassed. I found school exhausting and dull. With our impending A level exams, I was struggling to get my shit together, and I didn’t know where I was going in life. So I’m happy to hear this news. It feels like something interesting was finally happening, and I always love surprises, especially big ones like this. My school has been preparing for this, and had already gotten students to download Skype for Business a while ago so we could have online lessons if schools did shut down. Good call, school.
I message my mum that evening, and she wants me to go back home on Thursday so we could avoid having to walk past loads of people on Friday after school when everyone would be leaving. I agree, as the house staff said they wouldn’t stop anyone from leaving early if we wanted to. I begin packing up my room that evening.
The next day, there is a sixth form assembly held by the head mistress and other main staff. They talk about their plans – which is mainly just about following government advice, and providing remote learning. There is another assembly later in the day, where they talk more about remote learning and online classes. Then the head of sixth forms goes through the possibilities about what will happen with our exams, where he says the most likely option is that we will get predicted grades based on our work throughout the last two years and the work we will do in the coming months. I hope he’s right, because if I work really hard in the next months I might be able to achieve better grades than I would if we had exams.
My mum picks me up in the afternoon, with about 3 suitcases, 4 boxes, 12 bags and my violin and guitar stuffed in the car. It all feels very surreal, like I could be imagining it. It’s just so weird, going home when it should be school time, knowing exams are cancelled. Our music teacher has already emailed us with a load of work to do to be used as evidence if that was going to be how our grades were decided. So I start working on that in the evening, and continue on it the next day.
Now, I didn’t exactly tell anyone I was leaving on Thursday, just a couple people knew. So on Friday, I get a video call. It’s four of my friends, who scold me for not saying goodbye. I apologise. There’s genuinely no real reason I didn’t say bye, I just didn’t think about it. But it hits me that I may not see them for a very long time. I ask if I’ve missed out on anything, and they say there were a lot of tears. I reckon if I was in school, I might have cried too. People are also sharing photos and videos on the year group chat. There’s singing and dancing, and even alcohol. It’s pretty much a leaver’s day, come a couple months early. It still feels very strange to me.
Later in the day the government release information about GCSEs and A levels. Our prediction is right – ‘teachers will take into account a range of evidence and data including performance on mock exams and non-exam assessment’ to produce our grades. I’m happy. Happy and lucky. This really might give me a chance to well, and it takes away the stress of our grades being determined by what we write in a few hours in exam rooms. It feels like a sort of victory, almost like I want to thank the virus for letting this happen.
So now, on this Saturday evening as I write this, I feel motivated. Admittedly quite a bit more motivated than I was just a week ago. Lessons begin again, remotely, on Monday. This is a unique experience. These are weird times.