The A-Level students Williamson forget: personal stories from the front line where you don’t have any grades at all

To accompany an article for The Canary, here are some more personal stories from private A-Level students. They have essentially been forgotten about by the government, and have been left to either resit exams or retake the whole year. 

You can read the full Canary article here.


Israt, 19 years old from Newham in London told me:

I chose to resit due to extenuating circumstances where my father was on his death bed during my 2019 A-Level sitting. Evidently, this had a great emotional toll on me that reflected in my grades and I knew I had to resit as I was determined to obtain grades that reflect my potential and ability. In addition to this, my desire to resit also stemmed from wanting to leave generational poverty and social inequality that has been inflicted upon me. Unfortunately, being a young BAME person from a low income family in one of the poorest boroughs in the UK, on free school meals and occasionally provided with £60-£90 in bursary per school term (£20-£30 per month) has not given me leverage in life. In fact, it has hindered my progress dramatically.


I am predicted A*AA, secured all five offers. I respectively accepted London School Of Economics & Political Sciences and Kings College London to study History.


Finding an exam centre was extremely difficult. My sixth form refused to let me resit, despite my extenuating circumstances that they were aware of. Various sixth forms and colleges in my borough and neighbouring boroughs rejected me as a resit student due to capacity and funding issues. This forced me to look elsewhere, particularly private exam centres which are all very expensive. I was quoted an immense amount of money. I will quoted me £1,195 for three subjects when exams themselves cost between £25-£65 each:

A Level Prices

Israt continued:

The mark up is ridiculous given we are young people who simply want to obtain better grades to get access to a better life for ourselves. I also spoke to exam centres via telephone that quoted me £755 and £925. Most students that take the brave decision to retake do so due to extenuating circumstances, not because they have disposable income to spend on getting higher grades.


To assume that resitting exams is easy as all you have to do is study for your exams couldn’t be far from the truth for most external/home schooled students. Particularly, for BAME, low income disadvantaged students, who make up majority of A-Level resits. To resit A-Level exams for many of us is the only way for us to move forward as we don’t have the comfort of generational wealth, family savings, internships, travel infused gap years and other opportunities that money can bring to make us stand out in our CVs. Moreover, many courses such as law, medicine, pharmacy, dentistry etc. and universities such as Russell Group ones are highly competitive, requiring you to secure top grades to be considered for a conditional offer (alongside great experiences, interpersonal skills and extra curricular activities in which many BAME and disadvantaged people don’t have the comfort of exploring).


What most people don’t understand about the consequences of having to sit back a year whilst your peers are moving on with their lives is how extremely difficult it is itself. I can confirm that I have struggled immensely this year. Taking a gap year for most resit students as an external/home school student isn’t solely about the grades. Our mental health and social skills were at an expense for our decision to resit exams. We lived an extremely isolating year full of a lack of social cohesion, where our only friend was our textbooks. When your friends move on and move away and your stuck in the same spot for a year, it’s really difficult to cope with the sadness, depression and isolation that evidently inflicts upon you when you’re out of a routine and possessing minimal human interaction.


I’ve had to work odd jobs and hours to pay for my academic resources such a exam fees, books, printer ink, transport fees e.g. to the library, tuition and more to maximise obtaining grades that I deserve. I have spent over £1,000 doing so alongside endless and immense amounts of energy and hours dedicating myself to my studies. That is the reality of external/home school students who don’t have the convenience and support of teachers, teaching resources, funding etc that students in compulsory education have.


To be told that external/home schooled students have to resit again for yet another year that is beyond their means is not only incredibly insulting but a nightmare. It is extremely frustrating how the majority of the A-Level 2020 cohort were given a U- turn from being given CAGs [centre assessment grades] that were proved to be classist and downgraded, providing them with grades that are largely unreflective of their potential to a double lock of being given teachers predicted grades and the option to resit in Autumn, whereby whichever grade is higher will be their official A-Level grade. This allows majority of students with the option to attend university, resit with the assurance of keeping higher grades or deference in university entry with a confirmed space. This is absolutely unjustified given resit students have worked extremely hard this year, if not harder given we’ve had to deal with the mental and financial challenges that came with resitting A-Level exams, internalising how vital these exams are in determining our future.


We are no different to the rest of the A-Level cohort. COVID-19 does not discriminate, so why are we being discriminated against for choosing to (or in my case, the only choice I had) enrol in an exam centre as opposed to an institution. Despite this, many external students who have studied at their institution for years have been refused grades too. We deserve justice. We deserve to move forward too.


External/home school students want to be issued with their UCAS predicted grades as they were issued by their own teachers or tutors who know them best. It is clear that there is no difference between UCAS and teachers providing predicted grades for the rest of the cohort. Neither UCAS predicted grades, teacher predicted grades or CAG’s were moderated, yet the government chose to solely issue the majority of A-Level students with their predicted grades; neglecting 20,000 external/home schooled students.

Another student who wished to remain anonymous told me:

I was an A-Level resit student who took a gap year to improve my grades so I could apply for medicine. I registered as an external candidate at a centre to do my exams. However they refused to give me any grades for A-Levels meaning the whole country gets grades except external candidates. I had two offers for medicine this year which have all gone down the drain. This is so unfair and will mean I would now have to go on a second gap year. I cannot believe how the department for education didn’t have a plan for external and home-schooled candidates like myself to receive grades.

This is seemingly the tip of the iceberg. You can read more via The Canary here.

Featured image via Wikimedia