Class divide entrenched – but some use A-levels to make family history

Jemimah Norman is overwhelmed after reading her A-level results. She has every reason to be. With two A*s and an A, she would be welcome at any university in the country and easily meets the requirements for entry to Oxford or Cambridge.

She is not a typical Oxbridge candidate. In fact, the Haringey Sixth Form Centre student is the first in her family to study for A-levels.

She lives in Camden, north London, with her mother, sister and young nephew. She has opted to study sociology at Goldsmiths College in south-east London because she wants to study a subject "with room to explore different ideas and different cultures".

On the Tottenham High Road, three miles from where Ms Norman opened her results envelope yesterday morning, shopfronts are boarded up and the rubble is being cleared after a night of riots two weeks ago that the local MP David Lammy said "tore the heart out" of this community.

Yesterday another side of Tottenham was on show. Although three quarters of the students at Haringey Sixth Form Centre, on White Hart Lane, are poor enough to be entitled to the £30-a-week Educational Maintenance Allowance, results day has come with two thirds of the entrants getting the grades they need to go on to university. "Commentators have said that what happened in Tottenham two weeks ago was about young people," said Clare Kober, the leader of Haringey Council, who joined teenagers as they received their results yesterday morning. "But a true reflection of the youth is these young men and women getting their results today."

Another Haringey sixth-former, Tola Ariyo, 18, from Edmonton, is going to study law at LSE after achieving two A*s and a B. "There are opportunities for young people if they work for them," he said. Yet for inner-city schools, success stories are the exception rather than the rule. Yesterday's A-level results confirm the wide gap in standards between the haves and have-nots. In independent schools 18.1 per cent of scripts were awarded an A* grade compared with just 5.9 per cent in comprehensive schools.

In Hackney, another north London borough brought to its knees by violence last week, staff and students were celebrating at Mossbourne Academy. Eighty-five per cent of sixth-formers at the inner city comprehensive achieved A* to C grades – and it is sending nine of its students to Cambridge.

One of those is Michael Ha, 18, born in Hackney to Chinese immigrant parents. The son of a labourer and a seamstress, Mr Ha benefited from free school meals and the full Educational Maintenance Allowance (EMA) while at Mossbourne. He met his offer from St John's College, Cambridge to read medicine, gaining 2 A*s and 2 As. He puts his success down to a strong work ethic instilled in him at home and in the classroom. "I've always known to aim big" he said, "and I spent two years working so hard for this."

He is among the last set of teenagers who will receive the EMA. The Government announced last year that September's starters are having their £30-per-week allowance, awarded on the basis of attendance, completely cut.

"There are young people here who do want to make better lives for themselves and they have to work so hard to do so," said June Jarrett, principal at Haringey Sixth Form Centre. "These are children that don't live in leafy suburbs; many speak English as a second language.

"Next week we will have enrolment, after the GCSE results come out. We are very concerned that we're going to see a drop off in applications for a number of reasons; EMA is being cut, there are few part time jobs for people and at the end of it tuition fees for university will be so high that many don't see point. All the hard work we have done in Haringey to raise aspirations will be undone."

Case studies...

Wajih Ahmed

The 13-year-old pupil at Thornden Secondary School in Chandler's Ford, Hampshire, gained an A in A-level chemistry and an A in AS-level physics – adding to the A*s he was awarded in maths and further maths last year. He spent his evenings studying at Barton Peveril College in nearby Eastleigh to get the qualification five years ahead of schedule. He said: "I was really pleased because I worked really hard over the past year. I decided to do the exams, because I had already done some GCSEs and I was managing to do them easily. They were quite hard, but it was all right." Wajih will be applying to university next year.

Alex Loktionov

The high-achiever from The Perse School in Cambridge, scored 7 A* grades in his exams. The French-born 18-year-old, who has Russian parents but has lived in the UK since he was three, only needed one of the top marks to secure his place at Cambridge University. He hopes to work for the UN when he graduates. Alex, who lives in Stapleford, Cambridge, said: "It is a remarkable feeling. I don't think anyone expects to get those kinds of grades, although you always hope for the best."

James and Harry Burt

The twin brothers, 18, scooped 13 A* and two A grades between them. The twins took their exams at Colchester Royal Grammar School in Essex. Harry said he and his brother have a "friendly rivalry". Both have been accepted by Oxford. "It would have been a very difficult conversation to have if one of us had got the offer, but not the other,"said James.

Amanda, Abigail and Josephine Pryce

The 18-year-old sisters are triplets, all of whom have passed their BTEC courses at Haringey Sixth Form Centre. Amanda got a triple distinction in an ICT practitioners course, Abigail a triple distinction in Business Studies and Josephine two Bs and a C in her ICT course. All are off to university, Abigail and Josephine to the University of Hertfordshire and Amanda to the University of East London.

Ricardo Lawrence

The 19-year-old achieved two Cs and a B in Psychology, English Literature and Physcial Education at Haringey Sixth Form Centre. "I had to work part-time while studying to help my mum pay the bills," he said. "EMA meant I could pay the petrol to get to work and get to my lessons. I don't know how people like me will cope without it."

Ricardo lives with his mother and two younger brothers in Tottenham.

A-levels in brief...

State sixth form has 60 Oxbridge pupils

A state sixth-form college is celebrating getting 60 of its pupils into university at Oxford or Cambridge.

Hills Road Sixth Form college in Cambridge sits alongside such elite private schools as Eton, Westminster, St Paul's and St Paul's Girls' School in sending the largest number of pupils to the two universities.

The overall A-level points achieved by the college's 900 pupils this year was 427 – the equivalent of more than three A*-grade passes for every pupil.

Students 'have right' to exam information

Students have the right to find out exactly what examiners thought of their work, the Information Commissioner's Office said yesterday.

The watchdog said that all students who have sat their exams can ask to see a breakdown of their overall mark and the examiners' comments.

David Smith, the deputy commissioner for data protection, said: "Having access to information may not lead to their grades being altered but it could help them make decisions that impact on their future, such as deciding to resit an exam or pursue a particular subject at college or university."

Daley opts for second take after B in maths

Olympic medal hopeful Tom Daley has managed to balance his training for next year's London Games with his studies, gaining a trio of good results at the independent Plymouth College. He completed his photography A-level this year, at the age of 17, and will continue with maths and Spanish modules next year. Writing on Twitter, he said: "Ok got the results!!!! Maths B, Spanish A and Photography A* :) gonna retake one of my maths modules but kinda happy :)."

4 A* grades but no medical-school place

A student who achieved straight A*s in her A-levels was yesterday rejected from every university she applied for, including Oxford. Prina Shah, from Mill Hill in north London, did not manage to secure a university place to study medicine despite being awarded the top A-level grade in maths, further maths, biology and chemistry. The 18-year-old was rejected from three other top-flight universities: University College London, Nottingham and King's College London.

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