YOUR stories - Oxford Offers & the A Level Rollercoaster

By Tilly Rose

YOUR stories you have been sending in since A Level Results Day....

I am so pleased at the *UPDATE* that teachers' predictions can now be used but this doesn't take away from the stress and upset of the last few days. You have all done amazingly to power through!

'My school got hit really hard by the algorithm. It’s an international boarding school where most haven’t done GCSEs/iGCSEs so the past performance hasn’t been great and there was less for the algorithm to go on. My offer was A*AA with an A in chemistry. The grades OFQUAL gave (ABBA) were far too low for Oriel to even consider given me an offer. I have called them and they said they would honour their offer if I get the grades required through appeal but I would have to defer a year as they have filled up their quota. I’m an EU student so this year I am able to pay homeland fees but next year I’ll have to pay international fees which I can in no way afford.'

'My school is appealing for me and the headmaster has contacted Oriel on my behalf so there is still hope. They were completely shocked that I was awarded ABBA when I had As/A*s all year. A friend of mine was predicted A* in bio and got a D despite having As/A*s all year as well.'

'I went to a secondary school and sixth form where almost everyone passes but few get beyond Cs or Bs. At GCSE I proved I didn’t match my school’s typical performance, coming out with the highest grades in the year and most of those being 9s. I stayed on at the sixth form, knowing my potential was recognised but not realising that its mixed ability cohort would somehow cost me my grades.

From a state school where less than 10% of students go to a Russell Group university, I became the first person to get an offer from Oxford or Cambridge in eight years. I managed this largely through my own hard work, as most of my teachers knew so little about the process that they were shocked to find out that Oxbridge interviews are any different to a normal interview, and I couldn’t afford admissions test or interview courses. I went to a secondary school and sixth form where almost everyone passes but few get beyond Cs or Bs. At GCSE I proved I didn’t match my school’s typical performance, coming out with the highest grades in the year and most of those being 9s. I stayed on at the sixth form, knowing my potential was recognised but not realising that its mixed ability cohort would somehow cost me my grades.

I was on track to perform at the top of my year group again so my teachers were confident in submitting A*A*A to the exam boards, which is what I needed to meet my offer at Pembroke. However, my school didn’t get any A*s in my subjects last year and that has caused all my grades to get dragged down to AAB. I’ve been rejected from the university I’ve worked so hard to get into based on data that has nothing to do with me.'

'International student studying at Abingdon School, CAG - A*AAC, Revised - AAAC. Missed offer which was A*AA. I felt like even my CAG grade was a very inaccurate representation of my academic performance as it was mainly based of Mock results where schools had varied difficulties and that for the real thing we would’ve had weeks extra to revise for it. However, my already inaccurate CAG grade was further demolished by Ofqual, completely missing my offer by 1 grade.'

'My name is Eva, and I’m a black working-class girl from London. I go to a non-selective state school in London’s poorest borough. The many access initiatives made applying to Oxford for Experimental Psychology seem achievable, despite the odds being seemingly against me. I powered through the gruelling process involved in applying to Oxford which included an admissions test and 4 interviews. On decisions day, I was shocked and overjoyed to see I had gotten an offer. I was the 2nd Oxford offer in my school in 5 years. With my offer in mind, I made it my mission to achieve my requirements of A*AA.

COVID-19 stopped me in my tracks but I was still very hopeful. I knew I’d worked hard enough over the past two years to be predicted at least A*AA. On results day, I opened track to find I had been rejected. Once I got my grades I found that I had been given A*A*B (+ and A* in my EPQ). My Biology grade had been downgraded from A* to B, despite having achieved an A in both mocks this year. My school and I emailed my college to explain my situation, but they said that they could only accept me if my grade was successfully appealed but entry in 2020 could not be guaranteed. I’m still unsure if I’ll be able to take a gap year, but I’m disappointed that something I’ve worked so hard for may be taken out of my hands because of my school’s past attainment - which is by no means a reflection of my ability.'

'I've been rejected from oxford because i missed my 3A offer by one grade (I got given A*AB) and as a result had to go into clearing, I'm going to appeal my B grade but Oxford still won't guarantee me a place, not even for 2021 :('

'I was assessed A*AAA by my teachers and downgraded to AABB, i’m at a state school and this happened to a lot of students there. My college told me on results day they couldn’t be lenient because I missed the offer by two grades which is too low, makes no sense when these grades are completely unrepresentative and arbitrary, and my teachers thought I would meet the offer. I got 8 grade 9s at GCSE at a requires improvement secondary where Ofsted were especially concerned about sciences and MFL, which i got all 9s in and were the subjects I took to A level. My state sixth form is rated Outstanding but that didn’t stop the algorithm from affecting tons of students, I know many others like me who had 2/3 downgrades and missed uni offers. It makes no sense because if I did well at a struggling school why now has it been decided I won’t do well at a better school?

Mock appeals won’t help me either as Y12 mocks were capped at grade A by the school and Y13 mocks were the same week as Oxford interviews so I took the logical decision at the time to prep for the interview at the expense of mock revision, since at the time even teachers were saying the mocks weren’t that important. I’m sorry this message got really long, it’s just so frustrating as it feels like the odds are stacked against me at every angle and none of it is my fault.'

'My name is Caitlin, and I was an offer holder for Geography at Keble College for the upcoming academic year. I go to a state comprehensive school, and was the first girl in my school’s history to receive an offer from Oxford University. Also, I am am a first gen student, come from a working class background and was selected for highly competitive oxbridge outreach programmes. For context, I achieved 6 grade 9’s, 2 grade 8’s an A* and an A at GCSE.

After completing the gruelling Oxford application process, I knew the last hurdle to overcome was to achieve the A*AA offer in my A-levels. Then Covid19 struck and changed all of that; a computer algorithm would now decide my future.

In all three of my a level subjects I was downgraded from A*A*A* to AAA despite being ranked 2nd in all 3 of my subjects.

However, this wasn’t good enough for Oxford and I lost my place. This was even despite reading various articles in mainstream media stating that ‘Oxford University [would] accept scores of brilliant pupils from struggling backgrounds even if they fail to get expected grades’.

Now my place for 2020 is gone, my best chance of getting my place back is through the appeals process with mock grades, however those were the grades I was given on results day (AAA). Alternatively, I can take a year out and resit my exams, which is incredibly expensive (at least £100 per subject, ~£300 for all my a-levels) and my school is not paying for. During this time I’d wait and see if I’m ‘oxford worthy’.'

'I’m a first generation student from a state school in a London borough. Not many people from my school apply and get to an Oxbridge university. I’m fact I know of only one from past years. I applied for biomedical sciences and studied for and prepared for the BMAT and interviews myself. I was predicted A*A*A by my teachers and that is also what I got on my mocks but was downgraded to BAA. I’m appealing two of my grades that were downgraded and my school are supporting me in the process. It’s all very confusing as things seem to be changing daily and suddenly I’m being faced with the possibility of being deferred till next year, having to resit exams or reapplying altogether.'

'I was an offer holder for Hertford for Geography needing A*AA. My centre assessed grades were A*A*A which I believe accurately refract my abilities. However due to my schools’ past performance in certain subjects I was given A*AB and thus my offer was withdrawn. The grades I was given were completely unfair and unjust. For example I was given an A in Geography however in every single exam I have taken in year 12 and 13 for Geography including both mocks, I achieved an A*, never did I achieve an A yet that was what I was given. I’ve spent the last 2 days in contact with Hertford and am appealing my grades, I am yet to see the outcome from either.'

'I’m a first in generation state schooler who lives in one of the most deprived post codes in the country. Ever since Year 7 I wanted to go to Oxford and made it my goal to get there. I also discovered my passion and talent for chemistry at around the same time so I was committed. I was so pleased when I got my offer that I let everyone know, and everyone said that they all expected it. They even made my birthday celebrations oxford related. Ever since the exams have been  cancelled, I knew that I was put in a bad position, and in some ways I expected this to happen. On results day I opened up my results and saw that I had got A*AA, a near miss of my offer of A*A*A. I immediately emailed my college, who told me that the chemistry department were still making decisions. Unfortunately, the day after, I was told that there were no places for me, despite the fact I’ve seen other chemists with worse grades than mine get accepted.'

'I missed my offer to read Theology and Religion by one grade which was of course completely out of my control as with other students. Even if my grades are appealed and I am offered a deferred place, I simply cannot afford to take a whole year off, and I’m sure many are in the exact same position. I know they gave priority to state school students who missed their grades however I have a scholarship to a private school and still live in a low socio-economic borough so I thought perhaps they could have taken that into account but unfortunately they did not. I still have hope for appeals as my mock grades and CAGs were much higher than the grades given to me by ofqual but unfortunately my college have alrwady said they are at full capacity.'

'I go to a state sixth form college and I would be a first generation university attendee from a working class family. I had an open offer underwritten by Univ to study Experimental Psychology that had conditions of A*AA. Last week I was given AAAA in my subjects of Psychology, Biology, History, and English Literature and was therefore rejected by Univ. I was encouraged to see what Worcester have done and hope other colleges will follow suit and that the fact that I have an open offer will not further disadvantage me. Thank you for what you are trying to do to help our situation it is really appreciated :) best wishes and your book really helped me during my application process.'

'I had an offer to study Biology at Balliol, and my grades needed were A*AA - on results day I found I had A*A*B. My teachers had given me A*A*A but my A in chemistry was downgraded, which was absolutely heartbreaking. I can’t appeal off the most recent mocks, as I got a B but only due to the fact that we had sat a third paper in chemistry that we had never seen before. In order to maximise the use of this paper for personal development, I went into it blind to try and see what areas I was already comfortable with and what areas needed help. In the other two papers I scored very high As, and also scored As consistently throughout the year, but this third paper meant that my overall grade dropped to a B. It’s so unbelievably frustrating as I know for a fact that I was ready to achieve what I needed for Oxford in the actual exams, and now I’ve missed out on the uni of my dreams.

I was also emailing Balliol back and forth on results day to ask for leniency, and to explain the mock situation but unfortunately it didn’t work. I’m now stuck waiting for appeals and trying to work out if I need to resit chemistry and reapply, if I need to find a job for a gap year or if I should just give up on the Oxford dream entirely and reapply with the grades I have. It’s genuinely soul-crushing and the fact that there’s no consistency in the government’s guidelines really hurts even more.'

'I decided to apply to Oxford for law after attending an access programme in 2019. I think this is a good entree into my personal background. I have been educated in a state school. I am from a single parent family. I qualified for free school meals. These characteristics certainly contributed to the downgrading I saw in all 3 of my A level results on Thursday.

For GCSE I obtained 4 9 (A**) grades and 5 8(A*) grades. For A level Year 12 mocks, I received A*A*A, giving me predicted grades of A*A*A, meaning I could apply to my dream university, Oxford. This dream was seemingly shattered when I received my final grades of BBB.

Despite my college promising they had enough accommodation to house 100% of its prospective students, and their interest in practising ‘clemency’, I found out that I had been rejected 9:00am, Thursday. I then had to wait an hour before Oxford’s phone lines opened, which was quite possibly the longest hour of my life.

As my most recent mock grades were AAA, I was sure that I would be secure under the newly announced ‘triple lock system’. I referred this to the Oxford college I was due to attend. I was told it would not be possible for me to attend in 2020 even if my appeal was successful, as they had to ’prioritise their students’. If my appeal was successful I’d have deferred entry to 2021. Oxford forced this gap year onto me despite accepting that my disability and financial circumstances would class as ‘extenuating circumstances’.'