As the only student at her comprehensive school in Liverpool with an offer from Oxbridge, 18-year-old Jessica is worried that her grades may be lowered because they are above the school’s average. She has consistently been achieving four A* grades in mock exams and assessments, but says this is more than the whole school cohort achieved last year.
“I feel like I’m not going to get to represent my ability, and I’m upset and quite angry about it,” she says. “I’m extremely worried that I am going to lose a university place that I worked hard for throughout my school career for a reason that has nothing to do with me.
“I feel like this is a system that’s benefiting the rich, and no matter how hard you work you’ll be brought down,.”
Jessica has been told by Cambridge University that should she miss her offer for mathematics , she will be able to resit her exams next year and, should she make the grades, accept the place then. She says this has “taken a bit of stress off”, but it would mean a year out of education and a second wave of exams.
Her mum, Sam, says she is “really disappointed” for her daughter. “Jess has worked for many years, and has had Cambridge in her sight for probably six or seven years. She has worked so incredibly hard I’ve always taken a step back and let her get on with it.”
Like Jessica, 18-year-old Beth, who studied at a comprehensive school in Lincolnshire, is worried about the impact her school’s history could have on her future.
“I’ve been feeling so anxious about results day,” says Beth, who needs to achieve ABB to study English literature at Newcastle University. “Sixth-form was cut off so abruptly, meaning that since March I have been waiting for results which are to be decided for me using a system which seems to be constantly changing.
“My school is below the national average so I’m really worried that the results me and my peers are awarded will be dragged down as a result of what is expected of our school. I don’t see how it could possibly be fair to judge individuals by their whole school, and not even their year group. Private schools are likely to be above the national average, and it feels like they’re being rewarded for their privilege.”
She adds: “What I find so upsetting and frustrating is that our chance to prove ourselves has been taken away. What was the point of all the talks our school had been given about striving to be better and to work hard if that is not rewarded for reasons beyond our control? People say to me that I’ll be happy wherever I go, but why should I have to settle for a university that I don’t really want to go to just because coronavirus occurred this year?”
Thalia Bourne, 51, says she is angry about the way results have been handled, as her son Zacch waits to find out whether he has achieved his target of AAB to study history and religion at the University of Birmingham.
She says the idea that mock results provide a fallback is “nonsense”, as most of Zacch’s peers did not take them seriously and were working towards the final exams.
“I feel like this system has no common sense,” she says. “Surely the schools should have been allowed to do it, with some sort of checks and balances in place, but no across-the-board moderation like in Scotland. In the first couple of jobs, your A-levels matter. No one will look at Zacch’s grades and say: he’s the class of 2020, so it’s alright.”
Zacch says he found the process “really disempowering”. “It’s a confusing time for all of us,” he says. “No one feels secure and it’s hard to care or feel invested because we didn’t sit the exams. No one is likely to appeal if we don’t get into university because it would be tedious, and no one wants to resit. I am kind of scared, but it’s out of our hands.”
In Middlesex, Jana Abdal-Rahman says she is “really concerned” about the risk of under-predicting student grades.
“All through my educational career I’ve been underestimated, I exceeded my GCSE predictions and other target grades,” says the 18-year-old, who has a BBB offer to study international relations at Royal Holloway, providing she gets an A in her EPQ. “It feels unfair to downgrade me when I know I’ll do better than what they’d give, and my school’s results are not the best. It doesn’t recognise the hard work I’ve put in.”
She says she will go through clearing if she does not achieve her offer, but she is unhappy about the prospect of incurring enormous tuition fee debts “for a university I don’t want to go to”.
Harry Locatelli, 18, who lives in Farnborough, will be the first in his family to go to university should he make his target of BBC to study law at Bournemouth University. However, he struggled with his mental health in the first year of sixth-form and was not achieving the grades he would have liked, getting CCD grades in his mocks, and he worries this will affect his final grade.
“Since the start of year 13 I’ve made a massive improvement in how I’ve been working, and now I’m getting As and Bs,” he says.“My grades have been quite far apart, so I have literally no idea what I’ll get tomorrow, I’m just waiting.”
Locatelli says he is feeling the pressure of potentially being the first in his family to go to university. “My family haven’t put any pressure on me, it’s me personally,” he says. “If I don’t get the grades, I’ll feel like I’ve let them down.”