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The end of Year 11 is a rite of passage many of us remember fondly – the shirt signing, the prom, the traditional egg and flour fight outside the school gates.
That last one may be unique to my school, but up and down the country, traditions have been missed and leavers’ assemblies have been cancelled. Covid-19 put an abrupt end to school in March, meaning a generation of 16-year-olds have missed out.
As the summer term officially ends – and the dream of a last hurrah is well and truly gone – we spoke to the class of 2020 about how they’re feeling.
‘I didn’t get that experience like everyone else’
The end of the school year was abrupt for all Year 11s, but it was cut even shorter for Emily Westerby, who missed the last days on site due to being off sick with possible coronavirus symptoms.
“I thought I’d be back, I thought I’d do my GCSEs,” says Emily, from Newcastle. “So it was a real shock, I didn’t get to say goodbye to anybody, my friends or my teachers.”
Emily, who’s a mentee with The Girls Network, had a clear idea of what Year 11 was going to look like – and how it would end – having watched her older brother enjoy it several years earlier. So she’s sad everything was cancelled.
“I didn’t get to do study leave, I didn’t get to do after-school revision sessions,” she says. “I didn’t have early nights before my GCSEs or go for breakfast in the morning before my exams. I didn’t get that experience like everyone else. I used to look forward to it so much, just to finally feel grown up, in a way.”
Emily is due to start college next year, but still doesn’t know if the course will be delivered in-person or online. “I’m a little bit anxious about it, because I still don’t know what’s happening,” she says.
‘It doesn’t feel like a milestone anymore’
Madeleine, from Lancashire, says the end of the school year “feels strange, and anti climactical”.
″[It’s] almost as if we’ve been cheated out of our end of year celebrations,” she says. “It doesn’t feel like a milestone anymore – simply an extended holiday.”
Luckily, Madeleine’s school allowed Year 11s to have a celebration on the last day, including shirt signing, dancing and singing, which she says was great fun. “It was last minute and we would’ve loved an assembly, too, but given the circumstances we were extremely grateful for what we got,” she says.
At first, Madeleine was disappointed exams were cancelled after all the preparation and revising, but she says the disappointment didn’t last long. “I was relieved to have been saved from the stress and pressure of them. I’m a little nervous that the grade allocation is out of my hands now,” she says.
Next year, she’ll be staying on at her school for sixth form: “I’m really looking forward to it, as it gives you that extra independence.”
‘Prom would’ve been a nice goodbye’
Xavier, from London, says there’s an element of relief that the school year is now officially over. “It’s a lot of weight off my shoulders to be honest, but it’s also a shame I won’t get the same satisfaction of completing my GCSEs as the previous years have had,” he says.
“The announcement that we weren’t going back to school happened a bit too suddenly. I was looking forward to having a proper farewell with all my friends. I think the prom would’ve been a nice goodbye, but at the same time, I won’t really know what I actually missed out on.”
Xavier is concerned about his exam results, as he says teachers haven’t given him the correct predicted grades in the past. “We’ve been told we can redo our GCSEs, which is something I’ll probably do as I feel my predicted grades won’t be great.”
Next year, Xavier should be going to college and he’s also going to sign up for the NCS (National Citizen Service). ”[I want to] put myself out there and hopefully build my confidence by doing different things and meeting new people,” he says. “I feel like I’ve missed out a bit in the last few months, so hopefully this will be something that will help fill that gap.”
‘It was quite unexpected, but we just had to cope’
Hollie Morris, from Merseyside, really wanted to enjoy “the full leavers’ day experience, with everyone being dead positive and happy,” so she’s disappointed with the way the year ended.
“I was looking forward to there being a leavers’ assembly, looking at pictures of us from Year 7 in 2015 right up to now, but we just couldn’t have that,” she says. “We literally got told two days before we left, so it was quite unexpected but we just had to cope.”
Hollie, who’s a mentee with The Girls Network, says she has missed the social aspects of school over the past few months. “Some of my friends have got mental health [issues] and it’s hard for them, because they feel better when they’re around people.”
The Year 11 prom planned for July was postponed, which was particularly gutting for Hollie, but she’s glad her head of year has organised an alternative event for December. She’s also trying to stay optimistic by focussing her attention on starting sixth form, saying: “I can’t wait to see all the teachers!”
“I feel like a bit of normality is what we need now,” she adds. “If we have to social distance in school, I think it’s better than staying at home.”
‘It has all been taken away from us’
Aimee Farmer, from Birmingham, is “honestly gutted” that Year 11 was cut so short. “We had so much to look forward to, even after we left school for the summer, and now it has all been taken away from us,” she says.
“We missed out on a proper goodbye with a leavers’ assembly, we didn’t get to sign shirts properly. We missed out on our prom, which was the final time all our year would be together as people are moving onto new places.”
She feels confident about the grades she’ll be assigned in some subjects, but adds: “I’m very nervous about what I will be given in maths, as it has always been a struggle for me.”
Aimee plans to stay at her school to study musical theatre next year. “I’m excited to study what I enjoy again as I haven’t done a musical theatre class since March,” she says. “However, if I’m in the unfortunate position that I have to retake maths, then it will be extra stress that I won’t look forward to.”