School and Quarantine
Safiya Young is about to start her second year A Levels at Bexhill Sixth Form College. How was the lockdown for her and students like her?
The buses were late. So often, ‘late’ did not mean late anymore. ‘Late’ became the umbrella term for any unspoken uncertainty of time. There was late and there was miraculous. There were gaps in my college timetable that I did not know what to do with. The canteen was so crowded and suffocating I almost reverted to superstition in the hope of finding a free table. I knew where to sit in the library so the sun wouldn’t shine in my eyes and considered anyone already seated there the enemy. I knew that if I took the steps two at a time, there would always be one left over. I woke up, I ate breakfast, I knew I should leave myself at least five spare minutes for a leisurely walk to the bus stop – though I never did, and I always wished I’d packed my bags the night before.
Life in lockdown turned my schedule on its head. I got up, I ate breakfast, I replaced my porridge bowl with my laptop and in theory I got to work. The amount of motivation needed to do the same volume of work in a place so rife with distraction is criminally underrecognized. The bus, unreliable as it was, had become an almost necessary outlet for stress. It created a neat difference between work and home. That journey gave me time to breathe, perhaps listen to a song before the day began, and even its unreliability provided a fool-proof conversation topic.
I sat my GCSEs just over a year ago, but already it feels like another world. ‘Future’ was the word on everybody’s lips; your future, my future, our future. “This is the most important year of your lives so far,” the teachers said. Now, our futures have been put on hold until further notice.
The clumsy, haphazardly planned, algorithmic, govern-mental systemic matrix – based on rough percentages, previous performance of other students and the estimated positioning of Jupiter – otherwise known as “a robust set of grades” poured anger through the nation. Protests erupted in Scotland, the first to publish its results, and soon spread throughout the UK. I stared at my AS results, logged off from my computer and then logged back on to stare at them again. I stared until the screen became blurry with concentration and tears, one thought churning in my head: why did no one tell me how stupid I am?
It is clear that no one knows what to do, but that doesn’t mean we’re not still angry, nervous and afraid. There is talk of reducing course content – do this year’s students not need as much knowledge? – or holding exams later in the summer. Some Hastings schools have made the decision to make each student drop one subject, meaning they will finish with one less qualification than other schools around the country. As if the prospect wasn’t stressful enough, university arrangements are still being worked out. The only certainty I can cling to is the relief that my A-levels are still a comforting (almost) year away.
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