Transitioning from Year 11 during a global pandemic

Renata Joseph, NACE Trustee and Headteacher of Saint Cecilia’s Church of England School

Students in Year 11, like those in Years 6 and 13, are acutely feeling the impact of the pandemic. More than anything, what came across in the early days of lockdown – from learners and their families alike – was the loss of closure: not being able to complete courses and in some cases not having a chance to say goodbye to friends and teachers.

Supporting this year group has raised additional challenges: this is a group of young people who at the time of lockdown were developing maturity and independence through revision, refining decisions regarding next steps, and who now will go on to study for A-levels without ever having sat a formal exam. Whilst assessment centre grading may continue to play a part next year, there are important rites of passage that these young people will not experience. The exam system brings with it the opportunity to develop and demonstrate a number of key skills: independent study, prioritising learning and being able to perform in a traditional way.

How do we then bridge that emotional and academic gap for current Year 11s?

At Saint Cecilia's Church of England School in London, we’ve given a great deal of thought to this.

First, we have signalled to all Year 11 learners that we will honour the offers we have made to them and are looking forward to welcoming them into our sixth-form community. We believe asking learners to start afresh somewhere unfamiliar in September would be completely the wrong thing to do. So much of what they “know” has been changed over the past few months.

Making our learners feel part of this community is key, and we’ve spent time talking about our “going for green” scheme – which focuses on individual learners’ responsibilities when they join, ensuring that attendance, attitude and focus are established early on.

We have therefore built our bridging work programme with a focus on self-motivation and learners engaging in their passions – with a mix around building knowledge and articulating views.

Our wider reflection is that, like all schools, we won’t get everything right. We have work to do in the new academic year around ensuring the wider independence of these learners – and around further raising our knowledge, understanding and use of technology. But acknowledging gaps and making improvements is part of this journey that we are all currently on.

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