Haili Hughes is an English teacher at Saddleworth School in Oldham. This term, her year 11 form would have been finishing their GCSE exams and she had many plans for how she wanted to mark that moment. COVID-19 may have put a stop to her in-person plans, but she can still tell them how she feels.
Many students spend year 11 looking forward to their last weeks of school. As well as heralding the start of their GCSE examinations, there are other rites of passage that come with being a school leaver which they are far more excited about, such as leaver’s assemblies, hoodies, year books, shirt signing and of course, the all-important prom!
This year, I was lucky enough to see my third year 11 form through school. I had seen them grow up from being exuberant, keen, and enthusiastic eleven-year-olds to becoming young adults who blossomed and matured in front of my eyes and are now much taller than me. I have a particularly strong bond with this form as, tragically, a member of our form passed away in year 7. We had been through really difficult times together and we all looked out for each other, seeing one another as family rather than just a tutor group.
All year I had been planning what I would do with them to mark this occasion. I wanted to write each of them an individualised card with sincere messages and funny memories we had been through together – something they could keep and look back on to remind them of the great times we had. In addition, at the end of year 11, we always hold a formal ‘Leaver’s Assembly’ which is partly a celebration and partly a poignant look back at the pupils’ journey across their five years in the school. The Headteacher, Head of Year and each year 11 Form Tutor share any funny stories and hopefully impart some wisdom about their future, sending them on their way with well wishes and a few tears.
I had decided on singing a touching song by Green Day, accompanied by a colleague on acoustic guitar and a backdrop of cringy cute pictures of them projected onto a giant screen.
Of course, it was not to be as the COVID-19 outbreak cut short our time at school and instead our goodbyes were hurried and swift – not knowing when we would see each other again and in what circumstances. It is sad for both year 11 to miss out on all of these rites of passage and for their form teachers, who always look forward to celebrating with them after five long years of helping develop them into the adults they have become.
So, to my year 11 form I would say: even though we didn’t get the goodbye we had all planned for, your teachers are still thinking of you and are here for you if you need us. Use the summer to rest, recuperate and reflect on what you want to do as you take your next steps in life. If you are about to go to college or begin an apprenticeship, contact your college and ask if there is anything you could be reading to prepare. But also, read for pleasure! Enjoy nature by having a walk in your local area and take time to actually breathe, as you are usually so busy. This too shall pass. You will always be a very special class to me and hopefully we can meet soon for a more apt goodbye. Stay safe!
I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to say goodbye to my year 11s on BBC Radio 5 Live on what would have been the last day of their exams. You can watch the video below.