Nerves frayed on morning of reckoning

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The Independent Online
MARCUS Fletcher's face was a picture of nervous anticipation as he slowly tore open the envelope bearing his A-level grades. Then, with both fists clenched, he gave out a loud shout: 'Ye-es]'

Marcus was one of 120 boys collecting their results yesterday at Latymer Upper School, in west London. With an A and two Bs, he had easily secured a place at St Mary's Hospital Medical School in London to read medicine.

The past few days have been tense for him, because he has been unsure of making his grades. 'I've wanted to do medicine for four years, but I was worried about my chemistry because it was a pretty hard exam. I worked hard, but not as hard as I should have.'

For others, the morning was equally nerve-wracking. Peter Loizou, who had been rejected by all the law courses to which he had applied, received a letter that morning from King's College, London, which had seen his results on Wednesday. 'Congratulations on your excellent results,' it said. 'We would like to offer you a place.'

He arrived at school clutching the letter and a list of universities' telephone numbers, unsure whether the offer might be a mistake or some cruel practical joke. It proved to be genuine - with two As and a B, he can probably pick and choose.

'They said don't phone today, but I was going to anyway. When I read in the paper that everyone had done so well, I thought that was it, that there would be nothing left for me. But now I will have to talk to my teachers to decide what I should do,' he said.

For others, the news was less good. One boy, Guy Dickerson, was a victim of this year's place shortages in arts and social science subjects, which have led universities to stick rigidly to their offers.

He needed three Bs to take up a place at Leeds for business studies and French, but was told to await a decision after getting two As and a C.

Those applying for science subjects were likely to have fewer problems if they had dropped a grade. Dan Fuchs was confident of a place at Leeds to read electronic engineering with two Cs and a D, even though his offer was for three Cs. 'I phoned them yesterday and they said the most important thing was my maths, which I got,' he said.

Latymer, an independent boys' day school, expects most of its pupils to go on to university, and between 10 and 20 to win Oxbridge places.

Geoffrey Tait, head of careers, has a team of seven staff who will be on hand every day for the rest of the summer holidays. As the first few near-misses began to drift in, he expressed some optimism about the exercise - prospects might not be so grim as some people had predicted, he thought.

'The phone calls we have made so far have produced better results than I had been led to believe they would from what I read in the paper this morning. No-one has been given an outright 'no' so far,' he said.

Colin Diggory, the headmaster, had had little time to collate the school's results, but on a first reading, he was pleased. 'My initial reaction is that they are very good, and are in line with last year's,' he said.

Editing of yesterday's article offering post-A-level advice may have given the false impression that candidates for higher education courses should not telephone universities until the first clearing listings are published. Applicants should try telephoning courses in which they are interested, but should not be disappointed if admissions officers do not yet know if they have vacancies.