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A Year 11 student writes: Despite all the chaos, we are the lucky ones

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Matthew Jones, 15, is a Year 11 student at Idsall School in Shifnal. He was due to undertake his GCSEs before the pandemic lead to their cancellation.

Matthew Jones, pictured on a work experience placement ahead of his now-cancelled GCSEs

I feel lost now – a few weeks ago, my exams were still looming, with many of my contemporaries facing the added complication of self-isolation disrupting their revision.

I was anxious about the forthcoming exam period, but I had worked very hard and having undertaken two sets of mocks, I was prepared for what was to come.

And then on Wednesday, March 18, that all changed.

As the virus began to take hold, everybody was guessing that school would be closed, even exams postponed, after more students and staff began to self-isolate at home, and more deaths were reported worldwide – but exams being cancelled altogether hadn’t even occurred to me.

I was in a complete state of shock for the whole evening, my friends taking to social media to share feelings of concern for their futures, but also slight excitement – for the lack of revision now needed for GCSEs we were never going to take, and a summer break lasting for up to five months.

Reality soon set in, as I realised this was not part of a dream come true – school was closed and exams cancelled. There was simply no other option for this country to take. I no longer had weeks stuck revising in class, only days remained of Year 11.

On the Friday, nearly a quarter of my classmates were unable to enjoy the slight feeling of celebration as we arrived on our final day in class. I entered school with a heavy heart and a spare shirt for messages of good luck from peers that I would probably never see again.

My mind was flooded with emotions and my mood swung from joy to misery each hour, as the next chapter of my life neared, albeit months before anybody planned, with little to keep us going.

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I felt cheated that I wouldn’t get the opportunity to see if my hard work had reaped its rewards and my purpose for the following few months, to ‘work my socks off’ for high grades, now seemed pointless.

We’ve also been cheated of that final leaver’s assembly or end of term celebrations.

I do feel lost. My situation is unprecedented. I am part of the first generation to miss their summer exams entirely and the strict guidelines make nearly every one of my summer plans completely infeasible now.

However, we are still the lucky ones, we’re safe at home and healthy during this time of chaos. Life will go on.

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During the Second World War, my grandfather was forced to abandon his scholarship to Adams’ Grammar in Newport at the age of 14 to support his parents and six younger brothers, training as an electrician’s apprentice and joining the navy just before VE Day was celebrated.

While my situation – sitting on my backside and watching television – is totally incomparable, looking back to the horrors of the past could prove beneficial in viewing our present situation from a more rational perspective.

I, for one, will hopefully be returning to Idsall next school year to start my A-level courses, surrounded by friendships that may see a new lease of life after so much time apart, while the six months spent at home will give me time to study and prepare for my future.

The war lasted for six years – and many families lost every one of their sons, many at a similar or younger age to me now. All never returning to education, having their lives cut short prematurely.

My life will continue, as I hope to spend this time looking after myself with daily exercise, while using this break to socialise daily online and preparing for my A-level courses studying classic novels, poetry and a fascinating history course that will include Communist Russia and British politics.

I do feel confident that my GCSE results, based on past grades and my teacher’s expectations, will match what I am capable of achieving.

And the months spent revising and planning for exams that ultimately won’t happen will stand me in good stead for future study.

I may not be in school now, but this pandemic has taught me a valuable lesson – a renewed appreciation for everything that will get me through this time: my amazing family and friends, streaming services, good food and sleep!

And, I sincerely hope that we all come out of the lockdown as kinder and more considerate people, more aware of our emotions and more grateful for the essential work so many people are doing every day to help us cope in this crisis.

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