'Final year like no other' PM tells school leavers

Boris Johnson
Image caption Boris Johnson recorded a video message to those who had missed out on school leaving events

"This is a final year like no other," said Boris Johnson, in a video message to those who left school during the lockdown.

In a rallying cry to those stepping out of school, without any of the usual leavers' rites of passage, the prime minister told them to "rugby tackle that opportunity to the floor".

And whether it was reflecting on their lives or his own, he warned school leavers: "There are always going to be people who want to pour a bucket of cold water on your ideas."

Teenagers had missed out on much fun this summer, but their "sacrifice" had saved lives, he said, in a recorded YouTube and Facebook video, framed by Downing Street chandeliers and flags.

And what a strange last year it's been.

Image copyright PA Media
Image caption There have been no GCSEs or A-levels this year - with results to be based on estimated grades

Instead of GCSEs and A-levels, and the even more intense preparations for proms, leaving parties and music festivals, teenagers have been stuck at home.

Parents will remember those strange days in Spring when they told children expecting to take exams, that they weren't happening - and in fact, for those taking A-levels, neither was school any more. That was it.

Blazers that got hung behind doors in March are still there, like the ghosts of another time.

All those ceremonies of leaving, the writing on shirts, those epic post-exam summers that seem to stretch out forever, those first tastes of independent travel - none of it happened.

Parents too missed out on all those poignant end-of-school moments. These are important family milestones, if only to have the chance to say it feels like only five minutes since they started.

Schools are all about time - terms, year groups, timetables - and this year missed a beat, with leavers leaving without any of the symbolic, or even shambolic, moments of departure.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The summer getaways are going to be very different this year

While parents working from home learned to say things like "you're on mute", for teenagers it has been a strange limbo, cut off from friends and facing uncertainty about what happens next.

But at least they had this YouTube version of a leavers' assembly, with the prime minister there to inspire them.

"Empathy, resilience, self-discipline, patience - these are the qualities we're going to need now as we make our society fairer," he told them.

Churchillian timbre

And of course the first political journalist to get in touch highlighted the biggest policy issue here - Boris's hair.

Was it a bit longer than expected? Had this been filmed earlier? Another separately raised the possibility of "combing".

A bit like that Beatles album cover where Paul McCartney is barefoot, or the JFK assassination, the length of Boris Johnson's hair has a conspiracy life all of its own.

But did this speech connect with its young audience? All these A-level leavers are children born this century. They're younger than Google.

The image that the prime minister pressed hardest, with a Churchillian timbre rising in his voice, was linking the pandemic to the resilience of wartime, with the promise of our own version of post-war reconstruction.

This was a gag-free presentation, despite the likelihood that Mr Johnson's biggest strength with the young is that they think he's funny.

But as is often the tragedy of people who are seriously funny, more than anything they just want to be taken seriously.

And for those ending school in a way that no one expected, there was a recognition of the uncertainty facing them, with so many unknowns and the prospect of being on the receiving end of the economic storms ahead.

"Your generation has come of age facing a challenge like no other generation before you," said the prime minister, giving their experience its place in history.