Those who’ve been reading my blogs for some time may recall that I once wrote a “letter to Year 13”. It was July 2019, and the blog can be found in the archive on the MAT’s website. Part of my reason behind writing that post at that time was that I had a “Year 13” of my own. My eldest had just completed his A Levels, and we were awaiting his results. Little did any of us know that those results would be the last externally examined outcomes that our young people have received – at either Year 13 or Year 11.
Two years of Centre Assessed Grades (CAGs) and Teacher Assessed Grades (TAGs) have been the intervening reality for our young people as they’ve done everything they could to contend with the difficulties and turbulence of the last two years in our schools. And we, staff, parents and the wider community, have done all we can to support them.
So, as we see the resumption of examinations and tests in our schools (at the time of writing, Year 6 have just commenced their SATs, and GCSEs and A Levels begin in earnest imminently) I have chosen to re-publish my letter. Again, I have a personal reason to re-visit its themes: my eldest being at the point of concluding his university studies via his Finals assessments, whilst my youngest is sitting his GCSEs this summer too. I still stand by every word within it, and perhaps they may resonate even more so than they did almost three years ago.
Dear Year 13,
I want to take a few minutes of your time to share with you some of my thoughts about the times you’ve had at school, and the time that is to follow. You’re well beyond clichés of “crossroads” and “milestones” by now. However, if you’ve got your head screwed on, then you won’t be beyond some plain old advice – dolloped out in a spirit of humility and love. Like so many things in your life, you decide what to do with the contents of this letter. You have attained an age, and therefore a right, to make those decisions yourself. You also bear a responsibility for those decisions too – the accolades and accomplishments and the ownership of problems are yours. May you be thoroughly prepared and equipped to deal with both.
So, here goes. I’ve written you a list. I hope it makes sense. If it does, that’s great. If any of it resonates with you – even better. The list is in no order, other than that in which the ideas came to me, which has little bearing on their importance. It’s also by no means exhaustive, as you’ll see, but it is based on some of the challenges I know that some of you will face.
- Your identity is your most precious asset. Don’t trade it for conformity, but neither parade it for provocation. It isn’t a hairstyle, a tattoo, a fashion sense or a particular taste in music. All those things are other people’s creations that you may admire to the point of emulation. But they’re not you. Treat them as the superficialities they are. What your identity is, is something for you to discover for yourself.
- The predetermined groups of which you are a member don’t define you. Don’t be taken in by the misconceptions that there are traits or characteristics you should exhibit or actions you should take because of a group you are deemed to be a part of: your sex, your ethnicity, your age, your abilities, your background. Do not allow others to place guilt upon your shoulders for actions or opinions of others in your ‘group’, or place expectations upon you for a ‘cause’. This is the worst form of identity theft, and should be resisted. And don’t judge others by their predetermined groups either!
- In an age of polarisation in so many parts of our world, do not confuse abstinence from debate as agreement with you. Descartes wrote that “he who hid well, lived well.” More recently, university students in the United States have coined the phrase that “silence is safe”. Encourage dialogue with others as a means of finding truth. There is a difference between legitimate and civilised debate over issues that matter and the deliberate intention to cause offence. Don’t ever do the latter, and don’t ever allow those with differing views get away with accusing you of it as you engage in the former. There are plenty who’ll try to.
- Read. Read opinions that will challenge you, and those that will be affirming too. Don’t believe all you read to be true, but do believe that you can find truth through reading. As with all things, don’t sell yourself and your abilities short when choosing what to read. Nothing is “beyond you” – but you may need to read something else first! Be prepared to be profoundly moved by what you read.
- It is better to live with remorse for your actions, than regret for your inaction. So be active. The world hasn’t agreed to give you anything, or make anything easy for you. But statistically if you’re reading this blog, you’ve already been given chances in life that most of the planet’s other seven billion residents have not. Don’t be a confirmatory embodiment of the stereotypical “entitled, snowflake, millennial”. Your actions can change the world in as profound a way as those of previous generations, and they will.
- Never write lists with more than five key points in them.”
And now I break my own rule above with a genuine sixth point, written in earnest to all young people – including my own son – as they embark on their tests and exams.
6: You’re stronger than you think you are. You show that in all you do and all you’ve done, and in all you’re committed to doing. Surprise yourself with your accomplishments, celebrate them, and then resolve to achieve yet more – for yourself, for those around you that you care about, and for the world we all inhabit.
Wishing every one of our young people the success they deserve this summer – and offering my sincere gratitude to all those in their schools and homes who want the best for them too.
As always, thanks for reading.