Covid-19 lockdown day 3: GCSE exams cancelled

For college teacher Sarah Simons, the cancellation of exams due to coronavirus means that her son has left school

Sarah Simons

The cancelled GCSE exams mean Sarah Simons' son has now left school because of coronavirus

Well, I haven’t smothered any of my family in their sleep yet, so that’s a bit of good news.

The day started well. Up and at my desk for a couple of meetings on Zoom. I popped a dress on over my jim-jams and dragged a brush through my hair to give colleagues the vague impression that I hadn’t gone full-hermit. My husband sauntered past my office door out of sight of my computer’s camera, and, seeing as I was attempting professional discourse, casually pulled a moonie.

When the meeting was finished he greeted me with another shock, having decided to shave his head. Apparently he made this style choice "just to see". He seems to have embraced self-isolation life a little too readily. I’m keeping my trotters crossed he doesn’t progress on to digging a bunker and piling it high with powdered milk and shotguns.

Coronavirus: GCSEs and A levels cancelled, says PM

Shutdown: Colleges to close from Friday

Ofsted: Inspections are halted in response to coronavirus crisis


Classes cancelled due to coronavirus

Then more good news came. One of my teaching jobs that had cancelled all classes indefinitely will still be paying us as normal. I only do a few hours a week for them in the community, but as a zero-hours contract worker it’s really comforting to feel valued. That sort of supportive response gives such relief to staff like me who are on numerous precarious contracts. I’m sure decisive moves like this will be paid back manyfold in the loyalty and goodwill felt towards the organisation in future.

My son was sticking to his GCSE revision timetable without much prodding, but we were all a bit dithery, having heard that there would be education announcements during Tea Time with Boris.

Five o’clock, came and we all edgily perched around the telly. Education secretary Gavin Williamson had just announced in the House of Commons that schools and colleges in England were shutting up shop on Friday, then Boris blundered towards his lectern and repeated that statement. Though we guessed it was coming, it still felt like a shock. Then the real jolt for our family came: GCSE exams cancelled.

There was an audible gasp. Gobsmacked, all three of us sat bolt upright. The dogs, sensing something was afoot, began pacing the room. I don’t think I’ve ever seen my son’s jaw literally drop before. “What?… WHAT?”

A right old omnipickle

Though announcing this decision without any alternative in place leaves students, parents, teachers and masses of other people connected to the world of education in a right old omnipickle, I’m glad they did. I think it’s unreasonable to expect the powers-that-be to spring forth with a fully formed action plan when events are changing on an hourly basis. And though only taking an additional 48 hours to make that plan is still a bit dicey considering how many people it affects, I’d rather they grabbed that time and used it to listen to stakeholders, take advice and move in a considered manner.

Hints dropped by government suggest that grades will be taken on in-house assessment. We’ll see… If this is the case, and as my lad is going to college post-GCSE, this probably means that he’s now left school. I’m choosing to park the tidal wave of "my little boy has grown up" feelings that I was anticipating some time in June, until we are told that school is definitely, for him, finally out.

For some kids doing GCSEs and A levels, the news would be crushing. My lad didn’t seem particularly arsed. His predicted grades and his mock results were reasonable. It was more unsettling to realise that a defining part of his life might be completed, without the usual rite-of-passage ceremonies and emotional closure. Who knew that his Monday sweats would be his last day? And more pressingly, what the frig am I going to do with him for the next few months if revision is suddenly off the table?

The evening marked the first time I felt a deep sense of anxiety. While this virus is clearly devastating for lots of people and may yet be for us, we had decided to do our bit but treat the whole thing as a fully formed future anecdote. Tonight it felt different.

Sarah Simons works in colleges and adult community education in the East Midlands and is the director of UKFEchat. She tweets @MrsSarahSimons





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