The 18-year-old student whose letter to Boris Johnson went viral amid the A-level results fiasco has today received confirmation from Cambridge that she will be able to study there.
Acton-based Maimuna Hassan, 18, of Chiswick School, hoped to study Engineering at Cambridge University after securing predicted grades of A* A* A. But Ofqual’s algorithm downgraded her on results day to A*AB, meaning she missed out on both her dream places there and at Imperial College.
Born in Switzerland and the eldest child of Somali immigrants in a family of six, Maimuna arrived in the UK unable to speak a word of English but went onto a string of As and A*s at GCSE plus a robotics prize, having her sights set on an engineering place until she was thwarted by the algorithm computer formula that readjusted grades to reflect schools’ prior attainment. In an open letter to the Prime Minister which has now been shared hundreds of times on social media, Maimuna told of how hard she had to work to achieve top grades. Her case was also championed by the BBC and her local MP Rupa Huq.
She stated in her letter: “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.”
Yet following the Government’s U-turn last week, Maimuna received the Centre-Assessed Grades she needed to follow her dream and study at Newnham College. To the delight of Maimuna and her headteacher, Laura Ellener, the Cambridge college has today offered her a place in writing. Along the way Ealing Central and Acton MP Rupa Huq stepped in to intervene directly with the admissions tutor at Newnham College Cambridge where she coincidentally had done her undergraduate degree from 1990 – 1993.
Maimuna said: “I am incredibly pleased to say that I have gotten news about my place at Cambridge, and am ecstatic to say that my place has been confirmed for 2020! They have told me my place will be confirmed on the UCAS website next week.
“I would just like to thank Rupa, Mrs Ellener and the school staff for all their work in getting my story out there and supporting me during this very stressful and sometimes upsetting time. Happiness is written all over my family’s face, and I can’t explain how excited I am to go to university.”
Huq said: “As a sixth former myself applying to Cambridge decades ago I remember just how daunting it was when you’re on the outside of a foreboding-looking system, in a year without a major exam muck-up, so I didn’t want to not stay silent when I saw this disaster unfolding. Maimuna was one of many heart-breaking local cases that came to my attention after the results came out, and was yet another example of levelling down — the very opposite of the ‘levelling up’ Boris Johnson said he would be a champion of. She has made Chiswick School, Acton and the British Somali diaspora community very proud.”
Dr Sam Lucy, Admissions tutor of Newnham College Cambridge said: “We’ve been in close contact with Maimuna and her school; she was clearly treated very unjustly by the algorithm, but that has now been remedied. The good news is that we’ve now got her CAGs, which meet her offer, so will be able to confirm her place, and she’ll be top of my list.”
Huq commented: “Using an algorithm to determine grades based partly on schools’ past performances in exams simply doesn’t work in the case of Chiswick School, which is almost unrecognisable in improved staff stability since its inspirational head Laura Ellener came on board in 2019, after years of stop gaps and supply teaching.” The transformation can be seen in the way the school has gone from being rated ‘Requiring Improvement’ in its 2017 Ofsted Inspection to ‘Good’ this March. “The Government’s U-turn is a victory for a generation of youth who made their voices heard, including Maimuna, but in reality we should never have been in this position,” Huq continued.
Ellener said: “On behalf of all the staff at Chiswick School, well done to Maimuna for achieving the outstanding grades she merited. A number of our A-levels pupils were downgraded unfortunately. The Centre-Assessed Grades are a much more accurate reflection of students’ abilities, and will allow pupils such as Maimuna to achieve great things in the next stage of their lives.”