Chiswick student writes to PM after missing out on place at Cambridge

Image above: Maimuna Hassan

An A Level student at Chiswick School has written to the Prime Minister after her predicted grades were downgraded by the standardisation procedure adopted by Ofqual, the body which has overseen the awarding of A Level grades in England this summer, when students weren’t able to sit exams.

Head teacher Laura Ellener made the Maimuna Hassan’s letter public, as she is fighting for both her and several other students who she believes have been unfairly treated and have lost out massively by the way the calculations are done.

‘Today the majority of our students left happy’ she wrote, ‘our staff are amazing, as are the students. A few did not and through no fault of their own are left devastated. Our school is a Turnaround School. I was the 6th Headteacher in five years; the school was graded as double RI (Requiring Improvement) and when Ofsted visited in January we were awarded a Good with Outstanding Personal Development. It is now a totally different school to the one we are compared to this year.

‘Two students let down by the grading strategy for different reasons. One was moved from a Grade D to a U – because the school had a U last year so we had to have one this year. One who has asked me to share a letter she has written to Boris Johnson this morning which says everything…

A letter to Boris

Dear Mr Johnson,

I am an A Level student in West London. I have attended Chiswick School, a large comprehensive, since Year 7 and was due to take my exams this summer. My centre assessed grades, awarded by teachers who have taught me for many years and know me extremely well, were A*s in Maths and Computer Science, and an A in Physics. However, due to the standardisation procedures Ofqual has put in place, under the guidance of your government, my grades were lowered to an A in Maths and a B in Physics.

I wanted to write to you to explain the impact of this system on one individual student.

I am the oldest child of Somali immigrants in a family of six. I was born in Switzerland before arriving in England aged nine. English is my third language and when I arrived, the Swiss education system had not prepared me for the same level in England. Despite these obstacles, I have achieved top grades throughout my school career. Through dedicated hard work, I gained eight 9s, an 8 and two As at GCSE. The As were in exams I sat early, in Year 9 and Year 10.

My school has had five headteachers in five years, and was twice graded as Requiring Improvement by Ofsted, when I was in Year 9 and again when I was in Year 11. The science department saw huge turnover in staff – during my GCSE course alone, I had five different teachers. My GCSE grades were highly unusual and the highest in the year group.

Despite very disrupted teaching and offers from more academic sixth forms, I continued at my comprehensive school because I wanted to remain part of a community which had become very important to me and I was confident that I would work hard enough independently to achieve my ambitions, even if there were problems at school. Thus, I spent a great deal of money (which was difficult to come by) on books and resources for extra home study, as well as attending as many extra-curricular courses as I could find. I studied Maths, Physics and Computer Science, subjects which I knew had a poor history of results at Chiswick, but I was determined to go into engineering. I started a Robotics Club at school in order to engage my interests more thoroughly and to give back to my school community. We ended up training younger students and winning regional competitions in order to compete at national level.

This year, I was offered places to study at Cambridge University and Imperial College, London – two institutions I was excited to have the opportunity to attend. I knew I had worked hard for these offers and deserved the places. However, due to school closures and exam cancellations, the grades I would have achieved, and which my teachers confidently awarded me based on paper evidence, were lowered by the exam boards. This is the consequence of historic results at my school and has no bearing on my ability or attainment. My A Level grades this morning are in no way a reflection of my school career, as my teachers would all attest. Thus, I have lost my places at Cambridge and Imperial and am now looking at spending another year at home before I can attend university, placing a direct financial burden upon my family which they had not anticipated, and delaying my entry into the workplace by a further year. Words cannot describe my disappointment and distress.

I feel let down by the system, and as a black, Muslim girl who was achieving highly in very male-dominated subjects, I feel that the skewed nature of our society has had an unfair and highly detrimental impact on my life. I wanted my voice to be heard today, and this perspective to be seen.

Thank you for your attention.

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See also: Chiswick School celebrates improved A Level grades

See also: Chiswick School rated ‘Good’ with ‘Outstanding’ for students’ personal development