The recent spread of COVID-19 has completely changed the landscape of society across the globe. The UK has been slightly behind the actions seen in other European countries, in terms of social distancing policies and the closure of pubs, clubs, shops and education facilities. But now it has finally happened here: on Friday my college closed its doors, and then two days ago the country went into “lock-down”. Nobody is sure when the college will re-open or when this terrible, frightening mess will end.
It seems that this is the end of the academic year in terms of traditional teaching in the classroom – it is highly likely that we will not return to the classroom until September. Such a closure is completely unprecedented and after this point academia itself is in something of a crisis. This is particularly true of year groups who almost reached the end of formal, career-deciding assessments: GCSEs, A-levels, and those graduating from university.
As for now, we are told that the students will get the grades “they deserve.” Basically, this means that teachers are to provide a grade based on internal assessments, and my History A-level learners will have their grades determined on mock performance and their coursework. Which, hopefully, is a true reflection of their capability.
Ultimately, I believe that the universities will be so desperate to obtain numbers for the 2020-21 academic year so as to mean that the grades themselves will not be the “be-all-and-end-all”. This A-level cohort should obtain the passport they need to move onto higher education study. Also, with the new A-level intake in September 2020, although question marks may be attached to the GCSE grades they received, my college will still accept suitable students onto the programme. What will be needed, more than ever, is a rigorous initial assessment process to ensure the right A-level learners remain come October.
So, despite the upset, the lack of clarity, and ultimately not knowing when we will return to the classroom, I think the overall structure will remain. What is more upsetting for me, personally as a teacher, is how the final three months of learning and revision has been eliminated. The time after Easter with the Year 2 class is usually my fondest: content has been finished, the drama of coursework is over, and we can all focus on returning to all the stuff we have learnt over a two year period. It is a particularly rich time in terms of making synoptic links, bringing up past topics fondly, and in establishing confident interpretations. It is, in many ways, the light-bulb moments of A-level study, and it helps bond the class in a trench-like fashion to prepare for the onslaught of A-level exams.
The class of 2020 will not have this experience. Yes, the exam season is incredibly stressful, but also incredibly rewarding. They have been denied, and in a selfish way, I also have been denied in spending more time with an excellent group of students. This group has been a really interesting one and a joy to teach because of their contrasting personalities and their ability to think independently. But my loss will be the gain of higher education institutions who will take on these students for the next step in their studies.
So, COVID-19 has defined the academic year: it has shut it down. I really hope that in a year’s time teachers and students will look back on this period with a sense of relief that it is finally over.