Chiswick Student Writes to PM After Being Denied Cambridge Place

Teacher assessed marks downgraded by government system

Picture: Maimuna Hassan

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A student at Chiswick school has written to Boris Johnson after her A Level marks were downgraded denying her a place at Cambridge.

Maimuna Hassan , who is of Somali origin, had been assessed by her teachers as deserving of A* in Maths and Computer Science and A in Physics but she saw these reduced by the government’s algorithm to an A in Maths and a B in Physics.

She was a victim of the standardisation procedures put in place by Ofqual which looks at the school’s previous performances to adjust grades but she and her headteacher argue that, as Chiswick was a turnaround school which had seen significant improvement recently, this has led to gross unfairness for individual students.

The Swiss born pupil came to the country aged nine and started at the school in Year 7 with English as a third language. Despite having to adapt to a different curriculum she received top grades from the beginning of her school career. She gained eight grade 9s at GCSE (the new standard considered better than a A* under the old system) and two A grades in exams she sat early in Year 9 and Year 10.

During the period she was at the school it had five headteachers and was previously assessed as Requiring Improvement by OFSTED. There has been a significant turnover in teaching staff particularly in the science department and she was taught by five different teachers for her science GCSE.

Maimuna says in her letter, “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.”

Her efforts won her offers from Cambridge University and Imperial College which she could have taken up if her centre assessed grades were allowed to stand. She now faces the prospect of another year at home before she can hope to take up a university place placing an unanticipated extra financial burden on her family.

She tells the Prime Minister in her letter, “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.”

According to headteacher Laura Ellener this is not the only case of a student being badly let down by what she describes as an arbitrary system. She says another pupil saw their grade moved from a D to a U simply because the school had a U grade in the previous year which had to be allocated to a student in the current year.

She added, “Chiswick School has been on a rapid journey that saw it improve its Ofsted Grading in January 2020. While the majority of our students have done well we are very concerned for those that have been penalised by the unfair methodology used to generate their grades. We have been overwhelmed by the support of the community for these students and thank local MPs Ruth Cadbury and Rupa Huq who are working to support the students affected. The letter our student wrote to the Prime Minister is indicative of the thoughtful and intelligent children that attend our school and I am proud of them all today especially.”

Councillor Ron Mushiso the Education Spokes Person for the Conservative Councillors Group on Hounslow Council said, “Whilst overall grades have gone up from 76% in the A-C categories last year to 78% this year some students have inevitably been disappointed. I sympathise with those students who now find themselves in a difficult position and I am saddened by this particular case and certainly support her in her appeal. Ultimately, she can has the option of demonstrating her potential by sitting exams in the Autumn.”

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August 16, 2020

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