Final year GCSE and ‘A’ Level students across the UK will have a range of emotions on the back of the disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. These groups are to be known in this blog as the ‘Class of 2020’. Our household is no exception, with my stepson in year 13 and due to sit his A levels this summer. This blog takes my experiences and tries to present a balanced view of the issues impacting these two groups of students.
The Longest Holiday Ever
I recall my school summer holidays with fondness. At the start of the summer the six weeks seems like such an unimaginable expanse of time – so much opportunity to be with friends, go on family holidays and, in my case, spend endless hours playing football in the park or playing computer games. The end of my holiday was filled with great memories but also, regret, at how quickly this 6-week period came to an end. This was over 30 years ago and in some respects things haven’t really changed. Fast forward to May 2020, my stepson still spends time with his friends (albeit online rather than face-to-face) and the communication mode of choice has moved from speaking on the house telephone to a range of digital solutions from Messenger, Discord and Facetime. Tangentially, on the rare occasion our house landline phone rings we all momentarily pause and then carry on with what we were doing, it never gets answered as it is usually automated sales calls.
There are talks of schools opening in coming weeks, which may happen in some capacity for other year groups, but for those with cancelled exams it means that the total amount of time off will likely be at least 23 weeks. The ‘class of 2020’ have already had 6 weeks off. Other year groups have been given homework and have been home schooled but the cancelled exam students have largely been left to do what they want. Some are working to earn money (mainly supermarkets), but, based on my sample of one, it will largely be focused on sleeping, watching Netflix, eating lots and playing computer games.
The time should be used for relaxation and recharge but my advice to students would be to set some clear objectives in the coming months to ensure that you have some tangible achievements to show from this time off. It could be learning some new skills, for example my stepson has been working through our “Excel for Business Analytics” course and has now gone from an Excel noob (apparently the lingo of youth, meaning beginner!) to someone who is confident about using a range of Excel functions in his future studies. There are plenty of training courses out there – ranging from free to paid for. Is it just me or are Udemy bombarding everyone’s timelines with adverts from sourdough to at home hairdressing?
Use the time to think about what skills may be needed in the next stage in your study or career. For GCSE Students going on to study ‘A’ Levels it would be worth at least ensuring you are familiar with all the content from your GCSE study guides if they are subjects you intend to take next year. For ‘A’ Level students wishing to study at University a topic you have covered at ‘A’ Level you could do the same to ensure you hit the ground running when in your first year at University.
The time doesn’t have to be used to further develop your skills. It could be updating your CV, or if you are wishing to do an Apprenticeship it may be worth researching the types of work you would be interested in and establishing contact with potential local businesses that may be able to offer you something. Now is a good time to speak to a number of people to find out about specific professions (plus you are learning a good skill in being able to speak to a range of people via phone).
My advice is to use the time wisely and remember that this gap may need explaining to potential employers. Demonstrating initiative and clear achievement in this time will set you apart from the competition. Completing Red Dead Redemption 2 on the PC may not be that relevant unless you wish to pursue a career as a games tester!
Grade Regret or Grade Elation?
Regarding final grades, school teachers are instructed to make a fair and objective assessment of each ‘Class of 2020’ student to be submitted before the end of May 2020. Their grade assessment will take account of any prior exams or coursework in order to make an estimate of each students’ likely grade. This may be subject to further adjustments once submitted to the Examination boards in order to achieve a bell-shaped distribution. I believe that the ‘Class of 2020’ will fall into two distinct camps:
- The regretful crammers – There are students who only tend to take their final exams seriously (possibly fuelled by a late realisation that these are quite important) and were aiming to at least achieve a grade higher than their predicted grades. These students are now likely to miss out on higher grades but, conversely, a proportion will always under-perform in their exams and achieve grades below their predicted.
- The consistent performers – These are students who show consistent commitment to their coursework and mock exams. These students are likely to be happy with their grades as it will be reflective of the consistent hard work they have put in.
When the results are published in August 2020 there will be an option for students to appeal their results and students can opt to re-sit in August or Summer 2021. My advice would be to avoid the time spent on resits if possible, particularly if your actual grades still allow you to continue with your future academic or work plans.
The Class of Covid-19
It is clearly stated that the final GCSE and ‘A’ Level grades will carry equal status as those issued in previous or future years. What is not known at this stage is whether potential hiring managers and employers will view results from the “Class of 2020’ any differently. I personally think that whilst in the short term there will be the connection with this year when hiring managers are reviewing CVs this will diminish with time. The main focus should be on ensuring that you can demonstrate you used the downtime wisely (see above).
One useful experience that the ‘Class of 2020’ will be missing out on is that of revision and exams. Of course, they will have had to sit informal exams or mocks but this doesn’t fully replicate the experience of actual exams when there are qualifications at stake.
There are some fortunate people (I am not one!) who are naturally gifted at remembering information. These people never seem to have to spend the hours that mere mortals like me had to on revision. This is why it’s advisable to never compare your revision efforts to that of your friends and colleagues. I provided some advice to my stepson when he was sitting his GCSEs when he seemed to be struggling with the concept of revision; it is certainly an art that can only be developed with experience. It is advisable to have a revision timetable (with breaks) and try to stick to it. Then there is the actual revision process which does vary by student. My preferred approach was rote learning: write notes, then condense these notes further, and further again until it was only a few pages of notes per subject and hopefully some of it stuck. Call me old fashioned but I could never revise (or work for that matter) whilst listening to music.
Then there is the examination itself which teaches core life skills in time management and coping under pressure. I just hope that the ‘Class of 2020’ are not disadvantaged for future studies because they have missed out on a significant opportunity to practice revision and exam techniques.
The Anti-Social Network
Whilst it is too early to tell what medium-term changes Covid-19 will have on our social fabric it is fair to assume that there may be some impacts on the ‘Class of 2020’ after so much time in isolation away from their friends. Before the global pandemic, technology has allowed friends to engage remotely in ways that weren’t possible when I was a teenager. My worry, particularly post Covid-19 is that remote engagement with people may become the norm rather than the exception. This already manifests itself in my stepson pre Covid-19 who will deliberately go out of his way to avoid any face-to-face social interaction if he can. I am sure that his planned trip to University will help him get over this aversion to human interaction.
The class of 2021
It is also worth saying a few words about those students currently in Year 10 or Year 12. Not only have they had significant disruption to their teaching and learning time in advance of their final year, they are also facing some of the challenges outlined above in terms of revision and exam practice. The other disadvantage will be the lack of past papers for 2020 which are really useful in preparation for their final year. It remains to be seen whether the exam papers intended for this summer (which I assume will have been created) will be released or form the basis of the 2021 exams.
There is no doubt that the ‘Class of 2020’ will be impacted by Covid-19 but I am sure that they will show resilience and adapt to any future challenges in their academic or employment careers.
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