Dear Year 11,
Around this time of year, when life is on an even keel, I’d be thinking about how I’d say goodbye to you.
The traditions have built up over the years: you’d be in the Performance Hall, in fancy dress perhaps, or your smartest clothes. We’d start with a time-lapse video of the year group photo, the entire cohort ranked by height with the tallest lad (it would’ve been you this year, Alex) ascending the raked seating to stand at the top in the middle with the rest of the year flanking him.
You’d watch yourselves mill around the sports hall; a murmuration to begin with, gradually unravelling into a patient but restless queue waiting to sit in rows and be captured – smiling, tidy, ties straight – for posterity. There would be performances from our musicians and dancers and gymnasts and filmmakers.
The year group team would cast aside dignity, throwing themselves clumsily into something choreographed by the exasperated dance department – a shared moment of hilarity between year group and tutors that only we find funny.
When it inevitably leaks on Facebook and the rest of the world thinks it’s pathetic, so what? If your head of year can’t dress up as Lizzo to celebrate 11 years of compulsory education, it’s a pretty poor show.
There would be flowers, thank yous, a montage of photos from the past five years: the French trip, sports day, careers week, Bake Off, the play, the boccia team ruling the world, the Common Room, a cluster of girls sitting on a desk in a classroom with a display of German verbs behind them, lads on the field one sunny lunchtime; a slideshow of your Year 7 photos and your gasps of recognition.
Those baby faces. Were you ever that little? That sweet? We’d wrap it up with a solemn shirt signing – always carried out in prayerful silence – and a reminder that NO alcohol will be served at the prom. Then you’d go home.
Not this year. The marathon was halted at the 25th mile, leaving us disorientated – even angry – that these rituals are denied us. We knew it was serious when the mainstay of our system – the exams – were cancelled.
The flurry of seating plans, handing in phones, explaining your candidate number is always the same (always the same, James – 2217 – it never changes…) and 250 teenagers in a cavernous hall writing furiously for an hour and 45 minutes twice a day for three weeks is a rite of passage so familiar we never question it.
But just because the exams aren’t happening does not mean your education counts for nothing. You may not have taken your seat in the sports hall with a clear pencil case and an unlabelled water bottle, but the work is done: nothing is wasted.
You’ve enriched your lives with knowledge, made the most of opportunities, perfected skills and, above all, developed the habits of hard work and study that will last you a lifetime.
It shouldn’t be this way – yet here we are. I’ll say goodbye to you via webcam from my living room.
And you – spread out across the 1,000 square kilometres that make up our catchment area – will watch from your kitchens or sofas or conservatories.
We may not be able to gather together in the same room, but we’ve built a community that distance and disaster cannot break. That might be the greatest achievement of all.
I’m proud of you. I miss you. I wish you all the very best for whatever comes next.
Director of Learning (Year 11)