Quaranteens: life on lockdown with the Class of COVID-19

On Friday 20th March 2020, schools across the UK closed their doors to most pupils. For 16 to 18-year-olds up and down Britain, school's suddenly out... forever. We jumped in a WhatsApp group with teens across the country to hear how they feel about the summer that got cancelled.

There’s something about the universality of the coronavirus crisis that brings out the magnanimous in all of us. Everyone has their own narrative of hard-done-by. But there was a special slice of sympathy in our collective hearts for 16 and 18-year-olds everywhere on 18th March when Boris Johnson and Education Secretary Gavin Williamson announced that the schools were closed and exams called off.

EXAMS CANCELLED is the stuff of John Hughes films and revision-period wet dreams. But for previous young slackers, it released a familiar lurch of dread – who actually prepares for the mocks?! And for the overachievers out there the thought of a lifetime of work unfulfilled is the worst kind of cruel. Plus, when SCHOOL’S OUT means indefinite quarantine at home with your parents, not spliffs in the park and a crew trip to Magaluf; we’re all reminded of just how magical our school leaving summers were.

We chatted (from a comfortable distance thanks to WhatsApp) with a group of GCSE and A‑Level leavers from across the UK on how they felt when they found out the news, what the last day of school was like and what, well, happens next…

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After a couple of weeks of conjecture, on 18th March a characteristically rambling BoJo took to his pulpit to announce that school gates would be closing that Friday for the foreseeable. Adding, in a seemingly throw-away aside: Of course this does mean that exams will not take place in May and June though we will make sure that pupils get the qualifications they need and deserve for their academic career.”

MOLLY (15, Leamington Spa, GCSEs: Core subjects plus French, Art, Drama and ICT, Year 11)

I was on Houseparty with my friends and one of them joined and was just like exams are cancelled”. I checked the news and the headlines were all all summer examinations cancelled” and it was so confusing because the newspapers were saying cancelled” and my teachers were telling us not to use the word cancelled” because that’s not what Boris said. Everyone didn’t know what was going on…

UGO (18, Croydon, A‑Levels: Maths, English and Economics, Year 13)

At first I guess the immediate pressure of our exams was gone, but there was some anxiety as to how we would get our grades.

MOLLY

I found it really annoying that they announced the exams being cancelled without even telling us a back-up plan or anything. Leaving everyone panicked and confused. I was at first really happy but then later, when I really realised what was happening I was so sad I just cried tbh.

ARCHIE (17, Nottingham, A‑Levels: Art, Textiles and Product Design, Year 13)

My first thought was that I would be letting all my work go to waste. I got to the part in my product design course where I was able to put together my architecture prototype and I really wanted to finish it. Now that subjects who don’t require coursework don’t have to do any further work. Why should I still have to do mine if others get the time off?

NEVE (18, London, A‑Levels: English, History and Drama, Year 13)

Education is pretty much over for me because I’m not planning on going to uni. Because of that I feel a bit less stressed about grades than other people but there’s still that weird limbo feeling of being part of the Class of Covid-2020🤪

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On 20th March the Department for Education confirmed that students would receive a calculated grade” decided by teachers and taking into account various factors”. The Association of School and College Leavers said that the announcement left many questions unanswered”. Further information has been thin on the ground since then.

UGO

Our grades will probably be based on past exams /​predicted grades, which for me I don’t mind too much but I do think it sucks all our hard work and stress was kind of for nothing 😂 not really sure what’s gonna happen so I’m just gonna roll with it 🤷🏾‍♂

NEVE

It’s just so unsatisfying that all this build up led to nothing. Of course all the work wasn’t a waste but it is like you’ve gone up this fat rollercoaster and then you’re just chilling at the top 

UGO

I still wanted to do the exam because there was a uni I wanted to get into through adjustment, which means I would need to perform better than my predictions in the exam, which I now can’t do

JOY (17, Croydon, A‑Levels: Music and Media, Year 12)

I was supposed to be taking my mock/​progression exams in April in order to get my predicted grades which I would then apply to uni with. Our exams have been pushed back to June but still may not go ahead depending on the situation.

RHIDIAN (18, Swansea, A‑Levels: Maths, Business and Graphics, Year 13)

I have been told many different ways on how they are going to decide our grades but nothing had been confirmed yet. I just hope it’s not based on mock examinations because most people including myself didn’t properly start revision until just after Christmas so it wouldn’t be a fair way to decide them 😂

MOLLY

We have no idea when we’re going to find out our results. It’s crazy because no one knows, not even the teachers, not even the exam boards themselves 😅

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With just one full day to pack up their things and say their goodbyes, students had a hyper-sped version of the coming-of-age moment that is supposed to be the last day of school. 

ARCHIE

The fact that sixth form came to such an abrupt end, and we might never go back was pretty shocking, I’d have liked to have spent a little more time enjoying it before it came to an end

NEVE

I was head of the sixth form committee so we had been fundraising all year to pay for our prom! Because prom wasn’t happening we donated it to students in the sixth form who rely on food banks which made us feel way more positive about everything. There was a big assembly with speeches and funny awards like most likely to lead a revolution’ and biggest Tory’. Then everyone just went to Spoons lol

ARCHIE

Ours was slightly different, I usually don’t have sixth form on a Thursday but my mates told me to come in for this assembly, which had the head of sixth form and other teachers saying they didn’t really know what was going on, what we should do, then we all left shortly after. I’m still hoping that in the future we will be able to have our leavers ball event so I can go back and see everyone

NEVE

The whole goodbye thing was so weird, everyone crying and laughing in the park at 10am drinking Prosecco knowing we were about to go into lockdown and never do our A Levels and potentially not have any of our summer celebrations. It’s such an overload of information and emotions in such a short time period

ARCHIE

Everyone still had money left on their school accounts for food so everyone was trying to buy whatever they could to get rid of the last £30

NEVE

My mate confessed her love for this boy and he just laughed!

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Lockdown limbo is particularly real for school-leavers, unsure of whether they need to finish part-done coursework or sit in on virtual classes.

ARCHIE

I’m still being made to do all my coursework which is the majority of my work, on the off chance they want to look at it to help make up my grade

JOY

As I take creative subjects we need to use the facilities at college to do all of our coursework and assessed performances so now have no way of completing them at home

RHIDIAN

I play alot of games and I just bought Photoshop for a month to pass the time. I did have work but McDonalds shut on Monday so I no longer have a job for the time being 😂 They are paying me for this week but since I’m on a 0‑hour contact I’m not so sure what’s happening with pay after that

JOY

Houseparty is saving my live

RHIDIAN

One good thing that’s come from all the free time is that I’m becoming alot closer with friends that live in other countries because of all the time we are spending online as a group 😂

ARCHIE

I wanna be able to make myself some shorts and a hoodie by the end of this period of time

RHIDIAN

One of my best friends from comprehensive, who I barely got to talk to unless it was an hour or two on the weekend because he worked night shifts and then slept during the day 😂, is now one of the people I haven’t spent a day not talking to since we got stuck in our houses. So that’s been a nice addition to the first week.

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On 29th March the chief deputy medical officer announced that normal life would be unlikely to resume for at least six months in the UK. Houseparty is fun and all teens are a tactile bunch; and once they’ve watched Tiger King and completed GTA, this could prove to be a long and lonely summer.

JOY

I was meant to go to Reading, hopefully fingers crossed it won’t be cancelled!!

RHIDIAN

Oh yea I hope Reading’s not cancelled, I bought a weekend ticket last month 😂

CLARA (16, Portsmouth, GCSEs: Core subjects plus German, History, Geography and GCSE PE, Year 11)

I was so excited for this summer with the longest summer we have ever had, was so excited to go on holiday and go to victorious festival but probably not going to happen

UGO

I think for a lot us it would’ve been our last period of time to really hang out properly before we all go to different unis, which is why the news about quarantine sucked

MOLLY

Yea. I think it’s just so overwhelming that we revised so much we worked so hard but we knew that we were going to get a really long summer and a prom and other really nice things I guess as a reward and now everything’s kinda gone?

ARCHIE

10 of us planned to go to Ayia Napa or Zante…

NEVE

Yeah I was meant to go interrailing Europe 8 days after my exams finished but that’s definitely not happening anymore, ugh no chance for me to discover my karmas and realign my shakras!! Was also meant to go Boomtown which is what I was most gassed for so fingersss crossed that’s not cancelled (but it will be) 🤷🏻‍♀🤷🏻‍♀🤷🏻‍♀ nothings rlly a plan anymore

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As yet there has been no official statement on when schools and universities will be re-opening. The UK is currently brimming with a whole generation of young people who have no real clue or control over what their futures hold.

ARCHIE

I think the unis will still open [in September], as missing out a year won’t just affect unis but also the whole system of education below it

NEVE

But we’ve also been told there’s an option to re-sit exams if you’re not happy with your grade so maybe unis won’t be open

ARCHIE

I’ve applied for uni but a few weeks ago I started to think about not going so I’m undecided but this has put a extra spanner into the works in making the decision harder

RHIDIAN

I am planning to start an apprenticeship in accountancy this June depending if we are still on lockdown or not 😂

NEVE

We shouldn’t still feel so uncertain it’s unfair and it is scary to think what the fate of mental health will be in this crazy period. It’s mad to think Brexit and climate change were our biggest worries and now they’ve just been wiped out by this even bigger threat that kind of puts into perspective how ridiculous and minute something like Brexit can be?!

MOLLY

You hear about all these really intense historical events like the World Wars and it’s weird to think that we are alive while something massive is happening.

Governments and the people in power keep on telling us they’re trying their best” and they’re doing everything they can to help the climate crisis but there’s a limit to what we can do” but it’s just bullshit because here we all are, faced with a global pandemic and the governments are taking crazy actions to help us and save people.

I’m so grateful for all the emissions that are being reduced and I would say it is gaining us time. I think there’ll will be major changes after this. Not just with being nice and the environment. Also in the way people communicate, how people work. So many things that we might not even be able to see 🤷‍♀


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