Little brown envelopes deliver success or failure

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The Independent Online

"There's no other thing for it, I'm going to have to phone up and beg," mumbled a repentant sixth-former yesterday. Salford University's sociology department had demanded B, C and D grades in her A-levels, and C, D and E just would not be enough, she feared.

Nevertheless, the moment of truth could not have come sooner for thousands of students who have spent their summer filled with uncertainty about what the future would bring.

Alpa Shah, 18, studied maths, chemistry and biology at Copthall School, Mill Hill, north London, and needed B, B and C to begin her optometry course at Aston University: "I was worried all summer because of the lower grades I had been predicted to achieve all last year," she said. "I was given an average of D for biology at the end of the year so I hadn't been expecting much really."

Alpa was ecstatic about the A, A and B she read from a brown envelope handed to her by school staff. "If I'd have known my marks were going to be so high then I might have considered a more difficult subject like dentistry," she said.

Copthall student Sophie Lucas, 18, was just "really relieved" that her AAB passes meant she could study at Birmingham University. "I really wanted to go there," she said. She had spent the whole summer wondering whether she had done enough to warrant a place on the university's geography and planning course.

But high hopes had also been dashed by the contents of the little brown envelope. Sally Nevrkla, 18, was happily celebrating ABB, but was disappointed that she had narrowly missed out on an A in her favoured subject, Spanish.

"The result now splits oral and written tests and I know I got As for the former. It was just written that let me down and it's quite frustrating."

Phil Bassill, senior teacher at Copthall, was full of praise for this year's students: "The girls have studied hard and 49 per cent got A/B passes. But even those who didn't manage higher marks have achieved a great deal this year. Their success is a bit like me managing to run the 100m in 20 seconds flat."

Later, the students transferred to local establishments to celebrate or drown their sorrows.

Shane Flynn, 18, from Finchley Catholic High School, north London, was "surprised" at the two Ds he received for classics and business studies, and had decided to give up on education for good.

"I'm fed up with school now, and I just want to finish. I'm going to try and get a job somewhere, although I'm not sure what I want to do."