Home-schooled pupil, 7, is youngest child to score A*

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The Independent Online

Arran Fernandez surprised educationalists two years ago by passing a GCSE aged five. Yesterday, he was celebrating again after becoming the youngest person to get an A* grade in the exam.

The Surrey schoolboy was seven when he took the higher-tier GCSE maths paper and topped this GCSE roll-call of young achievers after scoring the highest possible grade.

Like 12-year-old Jonathan Prior, who last week became the youngest person to pass an A-level this year, Arran, now eight, does not attend school but is taught at home by his father, Neil Fernandez.

Arran said: "I'm very proud of myself and so are my family and friends."

But he added that he planned to take a break from exams and would not move straight on to A-levels in 2004. "I study English and French and also I'm studying geography and astronomy," he said. "Daddy doesn't think I should go to school. We've done topics that aren't in the syllabus, such as complex numbers and groups."

Asked what he liked to do for fun, Arran replied: "I read books and I play with puzzles. I don't play football but I play cricket. I haven't played much normal cricket - I like French cricket."

Every child could achieve what Arran had done, given the right encouragement, Dr Fernandez claimed.

Parents, not schools, were the best educators of their children because pupils often got bored at school and then failed to learn, he said. "A lot of boredom goes on in school - you have to sit there, whereas at home you don't get the negativity associated with being there with boredom."

Meanwhile, a trio of prodigies - a girl aged seven and two eight-year-old boys - were also among the youngest people to pass a GCSE this summer.

Safiya Shariff, from Northwood, Middlesex, aged seven, gained a C, while Rahim Hirji, from Worcester Park, Surrey, and Chahak Patel, from Harrow, north London, both aged eight, achieved B grades. All three took the information technology GCSE exam at Ryde College, a private tutorial college renowned for breaking records for the youngest pupils to pass exams.

In one of this year's most inspirational GCSE success stories, a schoolgirl whose brother was killed in Iraq and who has a serious muscular illness passed 12 GCSEs.

Joanna Wilson, 16, from Bromsgrove, near Birmingham, was revising for the exams in March when her elder brother, Andrew, a helicopter pilot with the Royal Navy, was killed in a collision between two Sea King helicopters over the Arabian Gulf.

Joanna, a pupil at King Edward VI Camp Hill School for Girls, had recently come out of hospital in a wheelchair, having had to have both her legs broken and reset as part of treatment for Scheie's syndrome, but she still managed to achieve six grade A*s, five As and a B.

The symptoms of the syndrome include joint limitations, hernias and a clouding of the cornea that can lead to blindness. Affected children can also develop claw hands and deformed feet.

"When Andrew passed away, it was during the main part of cramming everything in for exams," Joanna said. "It was extremely hard to concentrate because of everything that was happening. I thought that I would do quite well before. After that, I thought my grades would plateau because of it."

She said her "dream" was to do well enough in the sixth form to study medicine at Cambridge University.