Sixteen: Class of 2021 goes back to the books

Thursday: Sixteen: Class of 2021; (Channel 4, 9pm)

Wednesday, 25th August 2021, 5:00 pm

Throughout the past academic year, schools across the country – and the globe – faced arguably the most challenging period in living memory, juggling lockdowns with testing and exam chaos.

The Covid-19 pandemic didn’t just hang a ‘closed’ sign on pretty much the whole world and shake the global economy to its core, it caused no end of disruption for children everywhere and their education.

This year’s UK A-level results were hailed as a triumph over adversity and prompted plenty of questions about what could have been done differently, particularly when it came to lost learning time and the long-term impacts that being away from a school environment could have on a generation of youngsters.

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Aaminah , Sade, Callum, Kaira, Jack, Grace

A recent report by think tank the Institute for Government criticised the government’s U-turns and “failure, indeed the refusal, to make contingency plans over the summer and autumn of 2020 left pupils, parents and teachers facing a case of ‘pause, rewind, repeat’”. It highlighted how parents were left “bewildered” by some seemingly last-minute decisions.

But among all the talk of politics and policy and the deafening din of grown-up opinions from all sides, the voices of the schoolchildren who were at the heart of the situation have been barely heard.

This extraordinary documentary series sets that right.

It placed cameras in the hands of the Year 11 pupils of Dudley’s Link Academy, putting their final year on record with personal video diaries that chronicle their experience of an unprecedented time.

As they turn 16, preparing to take their GCSEs and make major decisions about their future, all in the midst of the global pandemic, the pupils speak of their ambitions and optimism for the future.

Naturally, it’s blended with their anxiety about the potential longer-term consequences of such a turbulent year, as well as the trials and tribulations of teenage life: relationships, parties and establishing their own identities under such extraordinary circumstances.

As head girl Aaminah wisely says: ‘in the future, people are going to write exam questions about us, to pinpoint what our lives were like’.

The opener begins in September 2020 when, after six months out of school during the first national lockdown, the students have returned to the Academy to begin their final year.

The pressure is on for Callum, Kara, Sade, Aaminah, Jack and Grace, whose mock exams are just around the corner.

Sade wants to be a psychologist but finds herself excluded from school for the day following an altercation in the canteen, and Callum dreams of playing football professionally but realises he might need a back-up plan.

Meanwhile Kara, who aspires to have an artistic career, feels unwell and is sent home from school to isolate, putting her at risk of missing her exams.

As the pandemic still looms large, if the school reports any more Covid cases, the whole of year 11 will be sent home – a move that could have devastating consequences.

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