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Even this storm cloud contains a silver lining

Posted on: 21/09/2020

In the days following the publication of A-Level results, I imagined explaining the events of 2020 to a younger version of myself: ‘we closed all schools to most pupils for six months, cancelled all exams, used a system of teacher assessment and statistical moderation to award grades, abandoned this system following the publication of results, and have now turned the school day on its head to avoid pupils interacting with each other’. Sound believable? My younger self wouldn’t have thought so.

And yet here we stand, amidst a pandemic, welcoming students back to schools that are transformed, balancing our desire for human interaction with the risk that now comes with it. This is not the 2020 we hoped for, and it is not the 2020 we would want for our young people.

As the leader of a sixth form, I am particularly conscious of the impact the pandemic is having on young adults at such a formative stage of their lives. The later teenage years are filled with potential, optimism, and new-found freedoms. It is cruel that so many rites of passage have been denied, and that freedoms and opportunities so recently offered have been retracted. It is cruel that students were treated with such little dignity during the debacle around exam results, and that many students nationally will have suffered irreparable disadvantage due to this.  

And yet here we stand. We didn’t choose the times, but as Gandalf said in The Fellowship of the Ring, we can only choose what to do with the time that is given us. And in a situation over which we have so little power, I suggest that we should choose to be optimistic – because, far from providing false consolation, I believe there is a lot to be optimistic about for our young people.

The first cause for optimism is quite how well many of our students learned during lockdown. Teachers at Didcot Sixth form were glowing about the progress and engagement of Year 12 students during the months of remote learning. I believe that, as a generation of learners, the young people of today will be more ‘university ready’ than generations before them and will flourish in their A-Levels next year.

The second cause for optimism is that, although we have been physically distant, our young people have not been distantly socially. Students at Didcot Sixth Form were extraordinarily resourceful when it came to staying connected remotely, and I heard of countless small acts of kindness, support and leadership amongst our student body during school closures. Crises remind us of our capacity for kindness and solidarity, and it is a reminder that is immensely valuable.

The third cause for optimism came last week, with the return of our sixth form students on a full-time basis. It is difficult to convey the joy and effervescence that emanated from the students upon seeing one another for the first time in months. Humans are social beings and draw our energy from each other and our relationships. What was also noticeable, aside from the pride with which students wore their professional dress, was the drive and hunger to learn. It is easy not to value education in a country where access to education is abundant, but for most of our students, this enforced period of absence will be a timely reminder of the joy and value of learning.

The events of 2020 are still unbelievable, both to my past and present self. However, we can only choose what to do with the time that is given us, and so in the world of education, I counsel optimism.


James Cross

Director of Didcot Sixth Form






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