It’s the two-year journey that matters, not just the grade

Jo Sale, Vice Principal, Impington International College

It is hard to put into words how much of an impact the cancellation of the International Baccalaureate (IB) exams has had on our Year 13 cohort. At a time when students are particularly vulnerable, coupled with the intense anxiety and sense of unknown that surrounded the first few weeks of lockdown, the effect was considerable. With so much uncertainty, our students were looking to us for answers which, of course, at the beginning, we were unable to provide. So, they went online looking for answers and found themselves comparing news stories from around the world and seeking information about how other schools and curricula were handling exams, which increased their apprehension.

The eventual cancellation of exams brought our students to a realisation that their time spent with us hasn’t been all about grades. It has been about their two-year IB journey, through which they have developed valuable skills and experienced important life lessons. Students always deserve to be celebrated for the completion of this journey however, with all that has been thrown at them this year, our students should be celebrated and praised, even more so than in other years, for their resilience and fortitude.

The school closure and exam cancellations weren’t just tough on our students, and their parents, but also for all of the teaching staff at the College, including myself. At Impington International College, we are a family and, each year, we all (students and teachers) undertake important rituals of closure before our Year 13s fly the nest in the summer. This year, these rituals couldn’t take place and we weren’t ready to let our Year 13s go!

Usually, when the students receive their results and leave us, their College IT accounts are shut down. However, this year, we have decided that this won’t be happening, at least not yet. Throughout the next academic year, our students will be able to remain in contact with us, via Teams, and keep us updated on what they are up to. These lines of communication have been vital throughout their time spent with us, and we want to maintain them so that they feel supported and reassured that we are still there for them.

Although the chance to physically celebrate together has been taken away from us this year, we have not let this dampen our spirits. Our community is thriving and we’ve been engaging in constant conversation with one another through platforms like Microsoft Teams. We also held our May Ball (a highlight of the sixth form calendar) virtually this year, where around 70 of our Year 13 cohort dressed up and joined us from beautiful settings all over the world. This allowed us to mark the occasion and let our students know that they deserve to be celebrated; highlighting the work, the ethos and the spirit of their two-year journey.

This year’s leavers will also be invited back to the 2021 May Ball with our other sixth form students and teachers, so that they can have a physical celebration and long awaited catch up following the unfortunate circumstances of this year.

This sense of community is similarly present in our position as an IB World School. Alongside a huge number of other schools and colleges across the globe, we are connected as educators, all following the IB’s mission and ethos and engaging our students in the IB learner profile. It is important to note that the IB Diploma Programme (DP) and Career-related Programme (CP) are so much more than a set of exam results. Through the teaching methods, development of academic independence and global perspective, these curricula help young people develop necessary life skills, encouraging them to be balanced, resilient and reflective; skills which have been evident within our students in the last three months. Thanks to this, they have been able to overcome the challenges of this pandemic and emerge stronger than ever.

Another fantastic element of the IB programmes is the fact that social and interpersonal development are present within every subject through the IB’s approaches to learning and teaching. By drawing on these teachings, alongside the IB learner profile attributes, our students have been able to dial down their emotions, take themselves out of the situation and realise that the decisions they make during this period, such as whether to continue their studies at university, or whether to re-sit an exam, will impact the rest of their lives. So, although they haven’t been able to take part in a physical written exam, they can show how they have grown and how these skills will help them in the future.

Failure is an important part of every students’ learning journey. I wholeheartedly believe that all of our students are capable of achieving amazing results, however, the more that we prepare students and normalise the fact that things may not go as planned, the more they are prepared for life beyond the classroom. We have two sets of mock exams during our students’ time at Impington International College which help prepare them for the actual experience of receiving and opening results. We have also been posting regular updates to students and their families and provide immediate support to all, preparing to look at both the positives and the negatives that come out of the day itself.

Results day should be a celebration of everyone’s achievements and we will be ready and raring to go when they are published. We truly are a community here and we have a group online chat where students can ask any questions that they have and we encourage our students to call and message the staff, as well as one another, so that they can share their joy. We also try to celebrate with our staff, they too have worked incredibly hard during this time and their effort has been phenomenal. During these uniquely awful circumstances, I remain extremely proud of how our students have dealt with the situation that has been forced upon them. Our students need to be celebrated; for the results they are set to achieve, the skills they have acquired and the exciting future that lies ahead.