Learning in a Pandemic: Sixth Form and College Experiences

Stipend Student Ambassador, Karys Spicer, shares the experience of our first year students as they left their school or college during a pandemic, to offer an insight into the experience of learners at this difficult time

In order to get to know our first year Stipend Ambassadors, we invited them to take part in a survey about their experiences throughout the Covid-19 pandemic. From their experiences of disruptions to their studies, when they were in their final months of school / college, to starting at University of Kent and considering how they coped throughout the whole ordeal and what advice or things to consider they would have for other students.

To start with, we asked our new first-year Stipend Ambassadors to have a think back to when they first heard about the disruptions that would be made to their studies while they were still in the final few months of their Level 3 qualification. Many continued their studies from home, and mainly had contact with their schools, colleges, and teachers through the use of emails, and in some cases live online lessons, on platforms such as Zoom, Teams, or Google Classroom. Even though they were not allowed to visit their school or college, they still had good contact with staff there. Some ambassadors stated that staff did well-being checks for their students, offered university application support, assessment feedback and study support. Communication with their school or college was found to be very helpful, and the response times were quite timely for most of our first year ambassadors. The communication received from their sixth form or college,  Ambassadors have said, helped them feel like they were still part of their community and that they had not just been forgotten due to what was going on during the pandemic.

Due to the pandemic all exams including BTECs and A Levels were cancelled and all of our new Stipend Ambassadors were unable to take any of the exams that they had worked so hard on over the past two years. When asked about exams, one of the survey respondents said, “By the time lockdown hit, I was in full exam mode – so it really felt like someone had shut the door on all I had planned. It was disheartening. The concept of simply mass-writing essays on the off-chance that they might count towards my final grade made the whole experience feel less sincere – my A-levels felt like they became less a test of my ability and more something that had to be got out of the way.”

Due to the exams being cancelled, the uncertainties about university and whether students would get their offers started to set in. Despite this, some respondents said they felt confident in getting into university, due to the results from mock exams and the coursework being at a high standard. On the other hand, some felt uncertain as to whether they would actually be accepted into their university choices due to not knowing how their final results for their qualifications were going to be decided. However, when asked about the results they all achieved on results day, the majority of the first year Stipend Ambassadors stated the results they obtained were somewhat as expected and were pleased with what grades they had been given.

Clearly, it has been a stressful time for our first year students, but despite everything, many were well supported by staff at their school or college. We hope that you are settling into life at Kent and feeling part of the Outreach Team. Your experiences will be similar to the students that we are currently working with on Outreach activities, and it’s worth bearing in mind how they will be feeling in these uncertain times when we have the chance to work with them.