Straight A student pens passionate letter to Boris Johnson after missing out on Cambridge dream

Maimuna Hassan missed out on a place at Cambridge University after she received downgraded results. Credit: Maimuna Hassan
  • Words by ITV News Multimedia Producer Wedaeli Chibelushi

"I was really disappointed and dejected after seeing the clearing number. I was expecting to see at least one of my university choices being accepted."

Stories like Maimuna Hassan's have been all too common in the last 48 hours. Pre-pandemic, the 18-year-old A Level student had clinched a spot at her dream university, Cambridge.

She studied hard and secured predicted grades of A*, A*, A, only for them to be downgraded to A*, A, B by exam regulator Ofqual.

To make matters worse, both Cambridge and Maimuna's insurance choice, Imperial College London, rejected her based on the downgraded results.

Here's where Maimuna's story differs from others.

"I am the oldest child of Somali immigrants in a family of six", she wrote on Thursday in an open letter to Boris Johnson, who has defended Thursday's results.

"I was born in Switzerland before arriving in England aged nine. English is my third language".

"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."

All the more impressive as her school, Chiswick School in west London, was graded as 'requires improvement' by Ofsted in 2015 and 2017. Five headteachers came and went within five years.

Students took part in protests over the Government’s handling of A-level results Credit: Victoria Jones/PA

In the UK, this year's results broke records and there has been an increase in the number of students accepted onto university courses.

However, Maimuna thinks the standardisation process, which saw almost 40 per cent of A-level assessments downgraded, placed too much weight on Chiswick School's historical results.

"My school has improved with its new leadership and now has subject specialist teachers, but this was ignored by awarding bodies," she said.

Chiswick School's new leadership comes in the form of Laura Ellener, the impassioned headteacher who published Maimuna's letter on her blog.

Then, she shared it on Twitter, tagging the accounts of several high profile figures, including Minister for Education Gavin Williamson, writer Malorie Blackman and broadcaster Piers Morgan.

Maimuna's words have now been retweeted by hundreds of people.

"Maimuna is an inspirational and highly academic student," Ms Ellener told ITV News.

"We are a 'turnaround school' and Ofsted confirmed this in their inspection (January 2020) when we were awarded a Good with Outstanding features.

"We also alerted Ofqual back in May that we were concerned this would happen."

She said that the school also wrote to Gavin Williamson with their concerns, "all to no avail". 

Ms Ellener has said that the majority of her A-Level students were happy with their results yesterday, but added: "Maimuna deserves her place at Cambridge and I strongly implore the Government to address her situation". 

Alongside the weight given to historical data, Maimuna also believes there has been a form of classism at play.

Data from Ofqual shows that this year, private schools saw a greater increase in the proportion of students getting As and A*s than other types of school.

Credit: Ofqual

"I would have expected the grades to be uniformly spread across the country", Maimuna said.

"The system went against certain types of people, I think".

Students unhappy with their results have the option of taking resits in the autumn.

Furthermore, on Wednesday, the Department of Education announced that students can use their mock exam results as the basis for an appeal, if they are higher than the calculated grade.

Maimuna is banking on this (her mock grades are A*A*A) but is concerned that the appeals could take weeks to process. Many are also worried that the terms for approving appeals are to be decided by Ofqual.

"I hope that the Government is going to be slightly pressured to take the appeal more seriously", she said.

When asked about the public's response to her letter, Miamuna was relatively positive.

She responded: "I've been really pleased with the response, it was not something I expected to see".