Class Of COVID-19: The Students Whose School Year Has Been Cut Short

When Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that schools in the UK would shut from Friday 20th March, it was a telltale sign that coronavirus, the illness that has claimed over 28,000 lives so far in the UK, was here to stay. While schools have remained open for the children of key workers and vulnerable children and some are scheduled to reopen on June 1st, in an unprecedented move this year's academic exams will not go ahead in England and Wales; instead, results will be awarded in July based on data from mock exams.
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For pupils who had spent months preparing for their GCSE and A-level exams, it was upsetting. Not only do they lose the chance to sit exams that might cement their future, they also miss out on what should be one of the most formative years of their lives.
In a new photo series titled Class of COVID-19, photographer Serena Brown meets the students who have had their academic year cut short and asks them how they are dealing with life under lockdown. "One thing that really showed the severity of the lockdown was seeing schools shut and all exams being cancelled," Serena tells Refinery29.
"The years between 16-18 were when I struggled with my mental health the most and young people are now juggling a global pandemic alongside an even more elevated sense of uncertainty when it comes to their education and their future.
"Teenagers get used to having their voices dismissed a lot of the time so it’s been amazing speaking to them and giving a platform to discuss how COVID-19 has thrown them off course right before higher education. The government will be grading them based on their predicted grades, which is proven to disadvantage black and minority ethnic and working class students.
"The way the government has dealt with this crisis has allowed so many to fall through the cracks, and I hope to continue this series as a way of voicing the worries of a generation that are feeling lost."
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Emily

What was it like having your final year at school cut short?

It was so surreal. The week before schools closed I was doing tech and dress runs for a play that was going to be our biggest showcase of the two years and one of our final performances together. We went home from our last rehearsal and most of the cast didn’t even say goodbye to each other, we just expected to see everyone the next day. Until we got home and found out we wouldn’t be going back in on Monday and that there was no way of knowing when we’d see each other next. It didn’t really sink in for a while because I ended up being so busy with online school but now that I’ve had time to think about it, it’s quite sad. We had so much to look forward to in the coming months and it feels like we’ve lost the last few opportunities to make memories before we go off and live separate lives.

What do you think about the plan the government has put in place to decide your final grades? Are you worried/anxious? Do you think this is fair for everyone?
I’m lucky in the sense that my future doesn’t depend on my A-level grades because I’m looking at going to drama school, which is based on auditions instead. However, it’s been hard having to switch all of my work over to online lessons and doing loads of papers from home to make up for A-level exams being cancelled. It’s like the workload has been doubled and we’re all expected to keep on top of it if we want good grades after all of this, as if we weren’t in the middle of a global pandemic. As for my acting course, there hasn’t been loads of news yet but we’re just trying to carry on with the work we are able to do, but it’s tough because most of the syllabus is performance based. My teachers are trying to find a way around it but it would be a bit easier if we had an idea of when or if we’d be going back to school. Having said that I think the government are doing everything they can right now and we just have to be patient and hope that things will work out in the end.
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What do you miss the most about school/normal life?
I’m really missing my friends right now but we’re finding ways around it with FaceTime and stuff. What I’m missing most is probably rehearsing and performing and just being busy doing a million things in a day instead of sitting in bed for hours. I know it will be over soon though so I’m trying to make the most of this time off and get some rest, hoping that life will be back to normal eventually.

Tia (left) & Roma (right)

What was it like having your final year at school cut short?
Tia: Shocking, it was unexpected and everything happened so fast. It was sad as well as there are some people you will never really talk to again.
Roma: I think it was quite upsetting that our last year got cut short because we’re missing prom and other events which is quite sad.
What do you think about the plan the government has put in place to decide your final grades? Are you worried/anxious? Do you think this is fair for everyone?
Tia: I think it’s the best thing they can do, but I don’t think it’s fair because I'm sure there are many people like myself that were revising for A-levels and not our mocks so much. I didn’t really take them very seriously as I would have if I knew this would happen. I’m anxious when the topic is brought up, otherwise I’ve pushed it to the back of my mind.
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Roma: I’m a bit worried because my school grades aren’t the best but I was really aiming to make sure I’d do well in my actual GCSEs so it’s quite unfair in my opinion.
What do you miss the most about school/normal life?
Tia: I’ll miss talking with everyone. School was just a sociable place so I’ll miss the atmosphere as well.
Roma: What I miss the most about school is being able to socialise with my friends and the whole year, as it felt like we were one big family. Also being able to actually learn and see how well/better I’m doing in school. Not being able to go out and see my friends isn’t a nice feeling as I feel like I’m losing my confidence at being able to communicate with my friends.

Amanda

What was it like having your final year at school cut short?
It was the weirdest feeling ever, like it didn’t feel like it was happening because one second we had the rest of the year left and were planning towards that, then the next minute we had two days until seven years of secondary school was over. But I think we managed to make it special and a memorable experience coming together as a year group. I don’t think I would change it even though it wasn’t the plan.
What do you think about the plan the government has put in place to decide your final grades? Are you worried/anxious? Do you think this is fair for everyone?
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To be honest I haven’t completely got my head around what they are going to do about our grades due to the fact that I feel helpless in this situation and I feel as though I can’t do anything about it, even if I disagree with what they do. I definitely think it’s going to be unfair, especially between private schools and state schools, which many people fail to realise.
What do you miss the most about school/normal life?
I miss the little interactions that I had every day at school, whether it was with my close friends or the people I would only talk to in my lessons. You don’t realise how many people you interact with until you can only have physical interactions with your household. The thing that I miss most about normal life in general is the feeling of excitement and looking forward to things as now I’m overly familiar with my quarantine routine and it is unknown when we will have things to look forward to such as parties, concerts and plans in general.

Kate

What was it like having your final year at school cut short?
It was really weird to be honest, suddenly our whole school career and everything we had known for basically our whole lives ended on a random Friday in March. It’s made me appreciate how much fun a cookie-cutter experience would have been. Everyone has a pretty similar experience with leaving school, which obviously doesn’t stop it from being special but it makes you wonder what it must be like to have a totally unique, almost story-like experience; now I have to wonder what it must be like to have a normal experience. I think that shows how much everything’s changed for us.
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What do you think about the plan the government has put in place to decide your final grades? Are you worried/anxious? Do you think this is fair for everyone?
I’m still a bit confused about it, because it’s all so uncertain. This is completely new territory and it scares me how there is literally no way to guess what will happen. I’m not sure how fair it is, it’s different for sure and probably the best that can happen in these circumstances, but there’s definitely students who will suffer who wouldn’t have normally. I’m definitely anxious about it.
What do you miss the most about school/normal life?
I miss everything! I miss seeing my friends and going out and even some parts of school. This has definitely made me appreciate how unpredictable everyday life actually was. It could feel monotonous or predictable but in reality you have no idea what could happen in a day. The topics of conversations, lessons, people who make you laugh, things that make you cry, things that make you angry, even what you eat for lunch or the weather; all of these things are fleeting and relatively unexpected. I just miss life I think.

Cheri

What was it like having your final year at school cut short?
I didn’t actually mind my final year at school being cut short as I didn’t really enjoy doing A-levels and was definitely not looking forward to the exams coming up, but it’s a shame that I didn’t get the chance to share the final memories of sixth form with my friends.
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What do you think about the plan the government has put in place to decide your final grades? Are you worried/anxious? Do you think this is fair for everyone?
I guess the government didn’t really have much choice but to work with what the schools already have in terms of the work we have produced over the past two years. I wouldn’t say that I’m really worried as my teachers had a lot of faith in me and were positive I would get the grades I wanted, however there is a slight bit of doubt. These last few months before the exams were really important to me, and I’m sure many others, in making sure we put in 100% effort and showing our full potential so I think it’s unfair that those who would’ve progressed a lot more during these months might not be credited for what they could’ve achieved.
What do you miss the most about school/normal life?
I honestly just miss socialising and spending time with all of my family and friends. Even just being able to go to the shops or wherever without stressing.

Chloe

What was it like having your final year at school cut short?
It was very strange as everyone just assumed we would have a normal final year. Everyone had started to plan for prom etc and it was kind of sad finding out we couldn’t experience all the normal things that bring your seven years of secondary to an end.
What do you think about the plan the government has put in place to decide your final grades? Are you worried/anxious? Do you think this is fair for everyone?
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I think, although it’s the most reasonable thing to do in this situation, it’s a very bittersweet solution. Obviously not having to take the exams is a relief, but the uncertainty of how grades will be put together is added anxiety to an already stressful time for everyone. I don’t think the government plan takes enough into account and I think the racial and class biases in the education system are definitely gonna show through unfair grading. I’m mainly worried about whether or not they’ll take into account the mocks I didn’t revise for or classwork I was a bit lazy completing, which doesn’t reflect what I would have achieved in the real exam.
What do you miss about normal life?
I miss seeing my friends every day and the little things, like being able to go to the shops and eating out.

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