A-level students who were downgraded by the controversial government algorithm are breathing deep sighs of relief after universities confirmed their places for this year.

“I could not believe what I had read,” said Leah Glenday, 18, of the message she received on Friday confirming her place at Girton College, Cambridge, after the anxiety of a week believing her dreams had been dashed.

The first pupil from her school to be offered a place at Cambridge, and said to be the first looked-after-child from the London borough of Haringey to receive an Oxbridge offer, Glenday said she was still in a dreamlike state and had not processed the fact she will form part of Girton’s class of 2020.

Gavin Williamson, 12 August, to ITV

“[I have] every confidence that the system we have put in place is a robust system, a system that’s fair”

Gavin Williamson, 12 August, to the BBC

“The system, for the overwhelming majority of young people, is going to deliver credible, strong results. It’s a robust system, it’s a fair system, it’s making sure that young people get the grades that they’ve worked so hard towards”

Nick Gibb, 12 August, to Sky News

“Most young people … will get the grade that the teacher sent in to the exam board that they thought they would get.”

Gavin Williamson, 13 August, to Sky News

Q) “Can you give a cast-iron guarantee that you will not be forced into the embarrassing U-turn that John Swinney and Nicola Sturgeon were in Scotland?”

A) “Absolutely”

Boris Johnson, 13 August, to reporters in Northern Ireland

“Let’s be in no doubt about it, the exam results that we’ve got today are robust. They’re good, they’re dependable for employers. It’s very important that for years to come people should be able to look at these grades and think these are robust, these are dependable”

Gavin Williamson, 15 August, interview to the Times

“This is it… No U-turn, no change… [In Scotland] you’ve got a system where there aren’t any controls, you’ve got rampant grade inflation. There’s been no checks and balances in that system; it degrades every single grade as a result and in-baked unfairness” 

“I ran over to my foster mum and started crying,” she said of the moment she received the email confirming her place. “I couldn’t stop crying or talk so I just showed her the phone. I had accepted the fact I wasn’t going there. That’s why I just cried because I had nothing else to say.”

Glenday said she will not believe what has happened until she is at Cambridge on her first day, and that she hopes her story can serve as inspiration to other fostered children.

“Children who have gone through a challenging upbringing can see themselves as unlucky, but they need to realise it can serve to their advantage,” she said. “It initiates your driving passion to pursue a certain cause and sticks us out from the crowd.”

The former West Hatch high school student, who lives in Essex, wants to be a family law barrister after her foster parents had to go to court to ensure her younger siblings could join Glenday and her sister in their home.

She said: “During my GCSEs, when I found out I had a little brother and sister who were going to be adopted and I couldn’t ever see them, I was traumatised

“My foster parents went to court to bring them into my placement, if it wasn’t for the barrister saying I should write letters for her to read out in court, my family might not have been able to come together. So I just want to give back and help keep other families together.”

Despite Gavin Williamson’s U-turn on Monday, the status of thousands of children’s futures remained in the balance as universities – who had already allocated places on the basis of the grades calculated with the algorithm – assessed whether they had extra space.

Despite the joy of Glenday and others, some have been forced to defer for a year, while the status of some remains unknown.

For Nina Bunting-Mitcham, who attended a state college in Peterborough, and received DDD under the since ditched system despite scoring As and Bs in her mock exams, the past week was traumatising but ended in huge relief after the Royal Veterinary College accepted her to study veterinary medicine following the government’s volte-face.

“I tried not to lose hope but it was hard,” she said. “Veterinary medicine was the only thing I wanted to do in life. I love animals more than people to be honest.”

Bunting-Mitcham, 18, told the schools minister, Nick Gibb, on live radio last Friday that he had “ruined her life” and despite the change in policy – which came after he had spoken to teachers at her school about the algorithmic disparity – she remains bruised by the affair.

“No government should put people through that trauma, it’s affected thousands of students’ confidence and self-belief,” she said. “I don’t think anybody in this age range will be voting for them after this. They’ve shown their incompetence once and for all.”

It remains unclear whether she must undertake a foundation year before her five-year course.


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