Coronavirus: as schools close children open up about fears and St Edmund's Catholic School headteacher describes 'worst day' of teaching career

AS SCHOOLS across the city closed to reduce the spread of coronavirus, one headteacher has revealed informing his Year 11 students the school was closing and they would not be sitting their GCSE exams was the ‘worst day’ of his teaching career.

By Neil Fatkin
Friday, 20th March 2020, 6:09 pm
Updated Friday, 20th March 2020, 6:14 pm

The government announced on Wednesday that schools would be closing from Friday March 20, except for children whose parents were classed as key workers.

After saying goodbye to students and closing the gates for an ‘undefined period of time’, headteacher at St Edmund’s Catholic school, Simon Graham, commented: ‘This is all very distressing for students as they are all unsure about when they will return. Some pupils were crying as they were unsure about when they were going to see their friends again while others were worried about when they would return to learning.

‘There’s an awful lot of uncertainty for young people to deal with.’

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Year 10 pupil, Tate Zimuto, 14, is concerned the closure could lead to children spending more time with vulnerable grandparents. Picture: Habibur Rahman

Many students were particularly concerned about how the spread of the dangerous disease could impact older relatives.

Year 8 pupil, Dulcie Davis, 12, said: ‘I realise the school is closing to stop the spread of the virus but I’m really worried about my grandparents. I feel I’m going to be missing out on my education and in particular my favourite lesson, English.’

Friend, Evie Hext, 13, added: ‘I’m concerned for my grandparents as we are very close. We have work we can do online but it isn’t the same as being in lessons with teachers. I’m really going to miss my friends.’

Year 10 pupil, Tate Zimato, 14, believes school closures could exacerbate the risk for older people.

Libby Gouth, 15, with one-year-old son, Oliver, has been left 'overwhelmed' by the whole situation.

‘It would be better if we could stay in school as if people’s parents are working they will end up getting sent to grandparents which increases their risk,’ he said.

Pupils have been left feeling confused by the speed and escalation of the whole situation.

Dulcie said: ‘Everything has happened so quickly. I’m also confused as to why some children are allowed to continue coming to school while others aren’t.’

While understanding of the decision to close schools, Mr Graham said the whole situation has left him ‘heartbroken’.

Friends, Dulcie Davis,12, Evie Hext 13 and Rachel Dillon, 13, are sad and confused that the school is closing early. Picture: Habibur Rahman

He said: ‘Speaking to my Year 11 students in yesterday’s leaving assembly was the worst day of my teaching career. It’s heartbreaking - they have all been working so hard towards their examinations.

‘I’m still in shock with the whole situation. The students are devastated and have been robbed of showing what they can do as well as the whole experience of leaving school.

‘We have done a leavers assembly and I’m determined to still give them a prom when we are in a position to do so. I’m not sure if they will get to experience collecting their results - it just isn’t the same.’

While understanding that public health must take priority, Mr Graham does feel the cancellation of exams could have been indefinitely postponed and possibly reviewed in the summer.

Friends Dulcie Davis, 12, and Evie Hext, 13, walking out of the school gates at St Edmond's Catholic School. Pupils don't know when the school will fully reopen. Picture: Habibur Rahman

‘While the cancellation has provided certainty in some ways it has now created a lot of uncertainty for the future. I think it would have been fairer to have waited until the summer to reassess the situation.

‘We have been discussing this and there was not one member of staff who wasn’t willing to potentially work with students in August and even invigilate the exams. Only time will tell if it was the correct decision to cancel,’ he said.

The Department for Education has announced that grades will be calculated though a combination of teacher assessed predicted grades combined with previous academic attainment. Students will also get the opportunity to resit an exam if they don’t think the judgement is fair.

Mr Graham commented: ‘This is not really a fair system. The only fair way is for pupils to sit some form of assessment.’

Mr Graham said: ‘Hopefully this will make the government rethink their strategy of having so many subjects resting on linear exams. If students had already done modular exams or submitted coursework we would be in a much better position to assess a fair reflection of pupil’s attainment,’ he said.

PARK COMMUNITY SCHOOL PUPILS LEFT OVERWHELMED AND QUESTIONING ‘POINTLESS’ EDUCATION AFTER CLOSURE

With schools across Hampshire also closing, Year 11 pupils at Park Community School in Havant have been left feeling ‘overwhelmed’ and ‘confused’ that the school has been forced to close and they will not get the opportunity to sit their GCSEs.

Sixteen-year-old Ashley Campfield, who moved from Bristol in September, said the school had given him the chance to 'be a completely different person' and improve his grades - but now he feels his hard work was 'pointless’.

He said: 'I'm feeling a bit confused, muddled, and disappointed. It's not the way it should have ended and it's all very sudden. I came down here to make a new start and in the last seven months I have been working my backside off - now it just feels pointless.

'I don't think people appreciate what we are going through. It's messed me up quite a bit.'

Fellow pupil, Libby Gouth, 15, who has a one-year-old son, feels special dispensation should have been given for Year 11 students.

She said: 'I'm worried that I'm going to fail my exams. The school has been very helpful and I'm very grateful. But I feel overwhelmed.

'I don't think the prime minister understands - he should have let all the year 11 students in and let the other years off.'

While headteacher, Chris Anders, has great sympathy for the plight of Year 11 students he wanted to stress the school has been putting measures in place for all students to have accessible learning at home.

Mr Anders said: 'One of things we have done which is different is giving the kids work books to take home. A lot of homes around here can't easily access the internet. We messaged parents to ask if they needed printed work, and we expected 50 messages - we got 200. One of the great things is that lots of schools are sharing information - we are working together.'