“Who knows, perhaps we should even make football games shorter!”
“Sixteen to twenty four year olds are no longer interested in the game!”
“We are saving football.”
-President of Real Madrid and former Super League dictator, Florentino Perez
During a pandemic, where so many people across the world are grieving, losing their jobs and income and struggling to get out of bed each day, football has been something that has provided a distraction. Football has been a lifeline to so many. It gives them the opportunity to forget about the current stresses of everyday life, and focus entirely on the match. Whether the team wins, loses or draws- people are invested in and love the team that they support.
The game has faced many controversies with the introduction of VAR during the past two seasons but nothing could have compared to what the money hungry, greedy, out of touch President of Real Madrid, Florentino Perez, had in store. What he unleashed on the 18th of April 2021, would be a ground-breaking attack on the very roots on our game, and the heritage, history and foundations of the top clubs around the world.
The rumours started rumbling during Premier League football’s usual ‘Super Sunday’ Manchester United vs Burnley game. Granted, that game doesn’t sound very ‘super’ but you can guarantee that every fan would not change the structure of the premier league for the world, if it was ever under threat. Little did every fan know that soon, the foundations of the game as we know it would be under attack.
At around 4pm on Sunday, rumours of the Super League being announced tonight started brewing from various journalists. The rumours were dismissed by many at first, as the idea of a ‘Super League’ has been floated before in the footballing world and it has always arrived to no avail. Slowly but surely, it became more prominent, and the journalists become louder and louder. There were reports that the biggest clubs in Europe had already signed up to this competition, and there was no backing out. The contracts, according to journalists, were legally binding. All football fans, players and managers watched on in horror and tried to gather any information that they could.
Finally, at 11:30pm, The Super League, a greedy, profit-m0tivated, sham of a project was announced. Twelve football clubs, including six English teams, had committed themselves to joining this new league and it would start as soon as summer 2021. The teams involved including the ‘big 6’ of the Premier League along with big Spanish and Italian clubs. They would play each other every single week. The website was launched. Every club had signed an official agreement. There was no going back. ‘The SuperLeague WILL be going ahead’ reported Sky Sports News, with some reporters in clear dismay and shock. Everyone watched with their mouths agape as the very structure of modern day football was thrown into question.
The Super League said that they would give fans excitement every week through giving the fans ‘big games’ every week, but what they failed to consider is that big games are not games if they’re played every week. They’re just games, and all of the significance of them die. Further reports gave light to the horrifying fact that the billionaire owners of these football clubs would all become vice-chairs of the new Super-League. Not only would this give them the opportunity to influence and be in control of games (corruption) they would also generate even more income to line their pockets with, as if they ever needed it.
The world of football was understandably rocked to its core. In reaction to the announcement of the Super-League, there were suddenly reports flying around by the most trust-worthy journalists that the Premier League was set to excel all of the English clubs from the league if they joined this new profit motivated disgrace of a league. The top clubs in Europe started leaving UEFA, and it was reported that these clubs would never be allowed to play in the Champions League, the biggest European competition and what players grow up dreaming of winning, ever again.
As will be mentioned later, we cannot deny that the footballing institutions such as UEFA are heavily flawed. The sad truth is the dawn of the Super-League announcement became a battle between rich corrupt billionaires for power. While playing their games however, they did not realise that they were putting the very soul of football at risk. They were also setting on fire every memory that every fan had associated with their club. If their club was kicked out of the league, what would the memories of the league matter? If their club was never allowed to play in the Champions League ever again, what would the historic nights in Europe mean in the story of history? All of their significance was being destroyed and stamped on by their out of touch billionaire owners.
The fact that they chose to announce this during a worldwide pandemic when so many people rely on football should show explicitly how out of touch everyone involved in creating this sham was. They are billionaires, and this idea has been brought about during Zoom-Calls in their massive mansions. Make no mistake, they did and do not have a clue about everyday life or about what people want from the sport. It escalated further when more and more comments started to emerge. It was reported that one owner who had signed up to the scheme judged the current fans as ‘Legacy Fans’ and it was time for the game ‘to evolve, to change.’ Effectively, those who wanted to protect the heritage of their club were now being treated as an inconvenient label by a billionaire.
If you have not got the gist already, the Super League was created with one motive in mind: to create more money for the richest. There was talks of the Super-League to be shown on expensive networks where of course the owners of the top clubs would gain even more income than they did under the current system. All the clubs would receive £3 billion between them just for joining, which they defended to ‘help the cover of the costs of the pandemic’ and to build up ‘each clubs infrastructure.’
Think about that for a moment. In a world where so many people are losing their jobs, in a footballing world where so many smaller clubs are struggling to keep afloat, rich billionaires defended their decision to sign up to a greed motivated football project by citing the pandemic. That is an absolute disgrace.
For a while, the rich ripping every football structure that we love apart seemed inevitable. The mood of despair was heightened by the head of the SuperLeague, Florentino Perez’s relentless, unforgiving comments. Not only did he ACTUALLY say every quote I have wrote at the beginning of this post, he also said that every club had signed up to the scheme. It was legally binding and there was ‘no going back.’ Some fans on social media started to have doubts about whether it was really possible to stop this billionaire’s maddening scheme from destroying football.
The billionaires did not expect the huge public revolt that arrived from the SuperLeague announcement. Reports later came out that they never expected such a strong reaction from the football fans. In their world, they thought they could transform using the technique of what is called ‘Disneyization’. By having big matches on television and streaming platforms every week, people would constantly be happy and satisfied. It’s like giving people continuous fast food and that’s the only thing they eat. Because the people are satisfied, the clubs would not stop growing and the billionaires in the league positions would only get richer. They did not anticipate this, because they do not understand football- they do not understand that the very soul of the game is experiencing the highs, but also the lows too. Competition is what keeps the game thriving. The billionaires disconnected from the game did and do not understand that. The fans do.
Every fan was united together to try and stop this from happening. The social media revolt was like nothing ever seen as almost every fan went against their club. A YouGov poll revealed that 79% of people in England opposed the newly created league. Less than twenty four hours after it was announced, before the next premier league game, Liverpool and Leeds fans alike descended with protest banners slamming the owners of Liverpool, FSG, and the contract they had signed. It was later revealed by Liverpool FC manager Jurgen Klopp’s admission that he had found out about the plans at the exact same time that the rest of the world had. As manager of a football club, he had not been consulted on these groundbreaking plans. Neither had the players. Instead, it had been signed off by an out of touch billionaire without a second thought to any of them. It is beyond the pale that the manager of the club was not even told about the upcoming plans to change the entire structure of the way football worked.
As the voices of the fans got louder, virtually and physically, many celebrities and football pundits started to jump onboard. The two most famous pundits in England, Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher, gave impassioned rants on Sky Sports flagship show Monday Night Football, using their platforms to say exactly what every fan wanted to hear.
“I think supporters up and down this country can stop this. This cannot be allowed to happen.” – Jamie Carragher
“it is an attack on every single football fan in this country. They (the owners) are scavengers. They need booted out their clubs and out of this country.” – Gary Neville
Klopp and Liverpool player James Milner also bravely came out before and after the game expressing their disgrace at the newly proposed plans.
“I don’t like it and I hope it does not happen.”- James Milner
“My opinion didn’t change, I heard about it yesterday.”- Jurgen Klopp, Liverpool Football Club manager, when asked about the SuperLeague.
Although SuperLeague dictator Perez defended himself by saying the contracts were binding Monday night, with an attitude similar to Donald Trump in the early days of his campaigning, action seemed inevitable when the power of the fans led to royalty and politicians shedding their (alleged) disgust on the situation.
The final straw that would break the camel’s back would be when current Premier League players came out in opposition throughout the day. This was demonstrated on social media, but it was also verbally demonstrated by two Manchester United players, Harry Maguire and Luke Shaw, directly to the chief executive of Man United, Ed Woodward. According to reports they exclaimed the disgust at the SuperLeague proposals in spectacular fashion. Teams eventually got cold-feet as Chelsea fans descended outside Stamford Bridge to protest the plans, and once the first teams pulled out, all the English clubs fell like a pack of pathetic, disgraced dominos. Cheers from the protesting fans erupted outside Stamford Bridge when their club announced their intention of withdrawal. As I sit writing, the SuperLeague plans, after 48 hours of hysteria, are dead in the water.
This is not a win for the billionaires. They could never have even see this coming, as they will never understand football. It is a win for the fans of the game. Without the fans revolt and disgust at the plans, the players may not have had the confidence to protest online, to go to their Chief Executive and question him, to organise a coordinated protest against the plans like Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson did with all of the clubs players. Without the fans, there was a huge possibility all the history of football clubs would have been wiped by billionaires in an instant.The clubs could have been disgraced from the Champions League and kicked out of their national league. What the fans kept close to their hearts and as happy memories, emotions and experiences would have meant nothing within an instant, all due to the money grabbing instincts of the revolting owners. Instead, the voices of the fans coming together should prove to everyone that change can be initiated, and we have stopped these plans in their tracks. Every banner, every tweet in protest, every conversation that has happened in the homes of families today matters. Make no mistake: the players, the managers and the fans are all the soul of these football clubs. The owners that agreed to the SuperLeague plans without consulting anyone apart from their bank accounts do not deserve to be associated with such wonderful institutions. They are leeches, parasites, and a stain on the footballing institutions within Europe.
This is the current mood within the fanbases of the top clubs. Instead of being happy that their clubs withdrew their SuperLeague plans on Tuesday night, their instant response was to call for the booting out of the capitalist owners. For the first time, even football pundits and football legends have gone out against the owners, some on live television. No fan of the football clubs that have breached the trust of their devoted followers will rest until these parasites are long gone out of the football clubs. We are not disgusted, but now are eyes are fully to the fact that power will always be with the people, even in the footballing world, regardless of what the rich billionaire owners spit at us. It is a galvanised effort among the fans to stop this in its tracks, and everyone should be proud.
The fight is not over. This will not be a moment that is a flash in the pan- it will have lasting effects in the footballing world. It is not a secret that leading football organisations, UEFA and FIFA, are corrupt to the core and are motivated only by profit, not by fan satisfaction. Perez, the man who started this mess was not right about many things, but he was right about one thing: UEFA are anything but transparent in their decision making and their morals are entirely led by money. They are proposing a new model of the European Champions League that represents the elitism that they are desperately trying to cling onto, with some positions in the Champions League being awarded to the ‘top clubs’ automatically, regardless if they qualify fairly or not. FIFA are also holding the next World Cup in Qatar, where over 6500 workers have died building the stadiums that FIFA are going to generate huge income from, not to mention the workers that do survive are paid well below what they should be.
As I write this blog post, the fight is also not over within the biggest English football clubs, especially those built on working class roots. Liverpool, Arsenal and Manchester United are all dealing with club owners that are corrupt to their core. The time has come for all of the owners to get out of these clubs that have so much working class heritage, which they couldn’t have represented any less if they had tried. To showcase what I mean, let’s take a look at FSG’s reign at Liverpool Football Club.
In their time as owners, they have made sure that the prices of football match tickets are hiked to disgusting amounts. This means that a lot of residents in the local community haven’t been able to afford to go to games anymore, freeing up seats for some fans that couldn’t care less about the match and instead sit eating their pizza and drinking their Coca Cola. The owners don’t care though, as it’s more money for them. FSG have also attempted to trademark the name ‘Liverpool Football Club’ to generate more financial gain for them. In March 2020, they also attempted to put all of the LFC employees on furlough. We’re talking about billionaires running away from paying ordinary workers their wages, to try and save their money. They were only stopped and were forced to U-turn because of the significant fan revolt.
Surprisingly, many big fan channels and some fans accepted these acts as ‘PR gone wrong.’ The joining of the Super-League, without even consulting the manager and the players of their club before signing the contract however, is the last straw for every fan.
These parasites need to be driven out of Liverpool Football Club. We’ve seen how loud the voice of the fan can be when we all come together, and we need to keep going. All the fans need to protest until the rotten owners at every club walk out, as they are not welcome. This was once a country where football was played by the working class in the docklands and in the streets. It was built in the beating heart of cities. We’ve had owners in this league that have exploited it for far too long. That way, England may be on the road to reforming football within this country, once and for all.
This leads me onto my final point. We need to give fans more of a say as to how their football clubs are run. We need to lobby the UK government into accepting the 50-1 rule for every English football club, which is adopted by German football clubs in the Bundesliga, so the fans voice can become elevated. The 50-1 means that all clubs are half owned by the fans themselves, and they have a say in any big decisions. Is it really a coincidence that the clubs that all rejected invitations to the Super-League, such as Bayern Munich and Dortmund, were German? As fans of football, we must not stop shouting for further reform in football. This should only be the start of the conversation.
During a traumatic and shocking forty eight hours, all football fans mobilised and stood together. They managed to make the Super-League collapse, in the face of rich capitalist men, hungry for profit. I hope this has shown to many that if we all collectively come together, our voices are a lot stronger than we think. Yes, the UK government may have had an influence in the English clubs decision to pull out, but they would not have taken any action if the fan revolt wasn’t so great. The idea of generating profit without caring for the common people is right up the Conservative Party’s street, after all! We all should remember that collectively, in all walks of life, our voices are all stronger together. Nothing is ever legally binding if it comes from a rich person’s mouth (sorry Perez!) we can initiate change and we can fight back.
In an old notebook that my mum probably got from Poundland, I once wrote a fictional story about two talking horses who would become superheroes and embark on an adventure to save the world, with James Bond by their side. I never finished it, I got to around one hundred fifty pages. I got my inspiration from two talking horse teddies that the ‘Hungary Horse’ restaurant chain gave out on Christmas Day as free gifts, where I spent Christmas at the age of ten. Looking back, this story wasn’t really ‘fiction’ as such but was based on my observations. The two horses went on the London Underground, something I was lucky enough to do as a child. While working with 007 agent James Bond to defeat evil robots, they also somehow had time to engage in more conventional aspects of life such as staying at hotels and going to shopping malls.
Although there are most likely many occasions where it has showed previously, that only my relatives can remember, I like to think that this was my beginning of my fascination and enjoyment of observing and analysing the world, and also my love for writing.
This may sound like I’m some sort of child oracle with a gift for writing who was always destined to be in the position that I find myself in, but that is not the case. For starters, my family and background is no where near what people would describe as ‘affluent’, or what you would consider your typical Oxbridge candidate to have. Secondly, I never really discovered my passion for certain subject areas and a passion for academic aspiration until very late in my school journey. Certainly, it was a LOT later compared to your typical Oxbridge candidate. You hear stories of people who have been dreaming of Oxbridge all their life, who have been trained by their school to realise their dreams etc. I didn’t dream of Oxbridge all of my life. I had no prior training or dreaming. My journey to becoming a University of Cambridge student is a lot different to the stereotype. To help you realise what I mean, let me take you back in time.
Primary school was neither particularly good, or particularly bad. I liked achieving academically and reaping the rewards such as being let out to break time early, but I found primary school quite restricting for the most part, and like most children at that age, couldn’t wait for the bell at the end of the day.
It was only when I got into Year Six that I started to enjoy my time there, being taught by a teacher who was tough but pushed the boundaries of the most gifted students. For the first time someone outside of my family taught me that achieving above the average of what was expected was indeed possible. She rewarded those who were willing to put the work in instead of having a magnifying glass on those who misbehaved, something I had become accustomed to for most of my academic life. Her signature method was ‘stamping’ where if you behaved well in a class, you would receive a physical stamp on a piece of card. Everyone had their own card to try and achieve as many stamps as possible. If you achieved 50 stamps, you would achieve a small certificate and a lollipop. If you achieved 100 stamps, you’d receive a bigger certificate and a bigger lollipop, and so on at fifty intervals. Along with a few other individuals, I saw this as an opportunity to achieve and make myself proud. I remember my teacher saying to me that no student she had taught ever achieved 150 stamps in a primary school year. I made it my ambition to achieve that many for my piece of card, and sure enough I did.
For the first time academically, I had broken down a barrier. It left ten year old me feeling very pleased with herself. I think the teacher who gave me this experience has migrated and is under a different name somewhere in Mexico now (seriously, I enquired about her location in order to reach out to her last year and that was the answer I received), but wherever she is I hope she knows how much of an impact she had on young children’s mindsets to achieve at my primary school. She left in the same year my year took the big jump; going to the state comprehensive high school in my small town which had previously been rated inadequate by OFTSED. This is when things changed. I would not re-discover that mindset of breaking boundaries down again for another six years.
“I would not re-discover the mindset of breaking boundaries down for another six years.”
At my comprehensive state school, I was isolated from most of my friends that I had made in primary school. They were either in different ‘academic sets’ or they simply didn’t want anything to do with me. This had an impact on my grades in most subjects. I had no motivation to study, as much as a year seven perhaps can, and I was quite unhappy throughout most school days. Although I was for most of the time the top classes for most subjects, I quickly developed a mindset that many students in my classes were on a different level of intelligence to me. This is largely because they would answer all the class questions with great confidence, using all the correct terminology and would receive the upmost praise and attention from the teachers. I didn’t consciously realise I was becoming under-confident in my academic ability at the time; I hadn’t bothered to grasp the concept of being an academic. I definitely did it subconsciously though, and I kept my mouth firmly shut despite knowing answers to questions and having opinions in class debates. With my confidence already shattered due to isolation in school, this doubled the feeling: isolation in both friendship and intelligence. I felt like nothing I said would be right.
“I quickly developed a mindset that many students in my classes were on a different level of intelligence to me“
Sometimes, I would lie awake at night in pure fear of going into school the next day, as I knew I would be met with the all too familiar feeling of isolation, anxiety and nervousness in my stomach. I would be pushed to working with other pupils who I knew were secretly laughing at me or mocking me behind my back or when they went off for their lunch, or would be left to feel hopeless as I was too anxious to ask for help from any of my teachers. Because of this, my grades were not brilliant: English and Maths were big standouts but I wasn’t doing too well in others. I was barely passing Science (according to the Year Seven grading) and for subjects like Design and Technology my grades were horrific. The poor grades were made worse by the fact my school highlighted them in bright red on my school reports. As twelve year old me read her report card, the red seemed to scream: ‘you’re not performing up to the standard we expect, do better’. I felt ashamed, but I didn’t act. I had no motivation, and I didn’t know how to change that.
After the first horrific year of Year Seven, things got slightly better in the next two years. I made friends, and although the feelings of anxiety didn’t go away entirely, it became a lot more manageable. I gained more confidence in subjects that used to give me great horror. However, confidence does not equal motivation which thus does not equal success. At a time of life when the typical Oxbridge teenage candidtate is starting to think about their future plans, my horizons were still very much limited. When people asked what I wanted to be when I was older, I normally responding with ‘I don’t know’ or avoid the question entirely.
From this point after, my mental health absolutely deteriorated. I am not going to go into too much detail with the events that happened in Year 9, Year 10 and Year 11- I don’t need to, and you don’t need to hear them.
In terms of academia, I was an absolute demotivated wreck. It was a miracle if I ever completed my homework before the night it was due in- and in school I was disinterested, bored and normally couldn’t wait to be at another concert, away from the school and its’ environment. I had absolutely no interest in academia. Throughout these three years, I stayed in top set for almost all of my classes but I was by no means a stand out in classes, apart from in History where I was excelling. And, perhaps most importantly, I never did any revision unless it was rushed or very close to the exam. I never felt prepared; I normally tried to fluke mock exams. I have a vivid memory of my mum pressuring me to do some revision the week before my first set of Year Eleven mock exams in January, and I responded with ‘it’s too early’ and instead chose to watch funny Youtube videos for the rest of the evening.
This may sound like typical behaviour from a fifteen year old to you, dear reader, and you may be questioning why I’m highlighting what I was like. Think of it like this though: when you hear other Oxbridge students ‘stories’ you hear about their hardworking ethic throughout their early teenage years, and how they achieved amazingly in their GCSES, with their grade reports being dominated by the best grades and thus being the highest performing students in the country. For me, this was not the case. Apart from a predicted Grade 8 in History (in old grading terms: an A*) I was not really predicted anything above a seven. I wasn’t achieving much above that prediction either in my other subjects.
Socially, it was a very difficult time in these years and my mental health suffered beyond belief. I’m not going into detail, as once again I don’t need to, but in many lessons I put my head down on the desk and had to ask to have some time out of class, when key information was being taught for my GCSE exams, so I could have an anxiety or a panic attack (sometimes both). I was in such a poor mental health state. I had to take counselling in Year 11 when my thoughts in my head sometimes became intrusive. I didn’t really learn much in my counselling as I would always bombard the session with an outpouring as to how I was feeling at the time. The time that counselling took up for Year Eleven me wasn’t brilliant either- I missed out on crucial lesson content for my GCSEs as my sessions clashed with my crucial school lessons.
I had no idea about my future. I had no ambition. The one vague idea I had about a career was becoming a worker in shop chain ‘CEX’ because I was keen on the idea of getting discount in there on video games and I liked the music that they played in there. Sixth form? Didn’t know. College? Didn’t know. Academic aspiration? Not a chance.
It was April 2018 when I snapped mentally, the day of my Spanish speaking GCSE exam. Again, I’m not going to detail as I don’t need to, but it led to me screaming ‘help’ in a medical room. As I held a sick bucket close to my face, I felt hopeless. I was shaking to my core and it took me an hour to calm down. I’m ashamed of the behaviour that I exhibited to certain people afterwards. Because of certain events, I was snappy, angry and overall a quite awful person to be around.I somehow managed to pull myself together and do my Spanish speaking exam.
From this day, April 28th, I experienced frequent nightmares and would wake up having panic attacks. My parents were extremely concerned and I near enough stopped eating entirely. When I showed signs of getting better, I would get worse again. They were worried, and understandably. I broke down almost every night and sometimes I saw no purpose in living. One of my low moments came when after another argument, I collapsed in a park, luckily close to my house, in panic. A stranger, luckily someone who was trained in counselling but at the time was picking up their child from the nearby school, came and helped this teenager who was shaking and basically passed out on the grass. It was traumatic.
To say I was a bit of a mess at this time is an understatement, but at the same time, something changed in me permanently. I hadn’t cared to revise for the Religious Education exams, and saw most of the revision as some sort of past time or joke that I didn’t really take it seriously, but for the first time I was interested in what the textbook said as well as being keen to revise. I’ll never forget the moment when that truly hit me. As I was writing my flashcard for the RE exams, I also remember feeling a very significant emotion. I was proud of the work I was doing and that I was achieving by doing so. This was a first for me, something that I had not felt on a large scale since my superhero story about horses I wrote all those years ago. I complemented for the first time that it was a thing to be proud of the work that you had achieved in academics. It was quite a moment for my fifteen year old mind, and I have not been the same since.
From then, apart from breakdowns over my English exams and a full-on giving up with my Chemistry exam within the Combined Science papers, I worked, and worked, and worked. Throughout the May half term which is the intermission between GCSE exams, I never stopped revising. For the first time, I was pulling eight to nine hours a day of revising. With each day, I realised just how important working to your goal truly was. I had a motivation inside me that had never existed before, and still stays to this day. I wanted to do well. I wanted to succeed. More than anything, I wanted perfection in my History exams and to improve in my Combined Science exams.
I powered all the way to the end of my GCSE exams. When I finally finished my last GCSE, which was a separate qualification on Statistics, I packed up all of my various flashcards, post it notes and sheets of paper that were scattered across the floor but also on my little study table in the living room. I felt relieved, but also proud. For the first time, I felt incredibly proud of myself for working as hard as I did and putting the effort in something academic. I was not self aware of my behaviour throughout most of my academic life, but now I was aware I never went back. After my GCSES, I had the best summer of my life and before I knew it, it was GCSE results day. I went up to my school as a bundle of nerves. Could I have worked harder in some GCSE subjects? Would that show? would it reflect in my grades? I was handed my exam slip, stepped outside of the auditorium so not all eyes would be on me from around the room. I opened it. There were some disappointments, but overall I was happy.
English Language- 6
English Literature- 5
Religious Education – 9
Combined Science- 8 and 7
Hilariously my first reaction was not towards the highest exam grades. It was, quite loudly, ‘I PASSED SPANISH!’. Of course, I was very happy with my two nines (particularly in History, having always achieved an 8 in other previous exams) and I weeped in private over them a little later. Yet, as I sat in McDonalds with my parents as a celebratory treat, I felt slightly let down with myself. I had some spectacular grades, but I knew I could have done better in some other subjects, particularly English. I could blame other people, like the teachers in whatever way I wanted but it would not change the fact that I didn’t put enough work in. Once again, I emphasise the need for comparison with the typical Oxbridge student grades at this level. Although I had good grades, they are certainly not the array of perfect 8s and 9s down the exam slip that you hear about.
I would say that having the feeling of being let down was the ignition to the next two years of my life. I chose to go to my comprehensive state school’s sixth form. I had the option to go to my local grammar school as a scholar, but I chose not to.
On the first day, I vowed that I would start as I meant to go on. After my first Politics class, I looked at the information sheets again and made the entire information sheets into notes in my notebook. ‘What are you doing?’ I remember my friend asking, in the common room. ‘It’s only the first day.’
‘Starting as I mean to go on’ I chuckled, looking at my scruffy notes. Later on that evening, I went over all my notes again, made them into flashcards, and then covered the flashcards and wrote everything down again so I knew the knowledge had been implemented and I understood it. This is a pattern of revising that I would repeat again and again, for almost all of my subject content. I would race through homework and instead do this activity again and again to revise and make sure I had a clear understanding. I did this for all three subjects, and made sure that I had time for it. After switching History A-level to English Language A-level in October, I learnt everything through this method for my new subject in the half term that I may have missed in first half term lessons. I gave myself two days off at the start of October half term. The rest I spent working all day, everyday.
My first test of my ability and of this technique came in the form of two Sociology mock exams. I revised my socks off for these. I worked how I had never worked before. I was pulling 6pm-11pm revision sessions after sixth form. In the exams I wrote everything I could and at the end was extremely satisfied with my effort. We got our marks quite quickly, a few days after we did them, thanks to Ms. Knight being very efficient in her marking. She handed me my first paper back, on ‘Education with Sociological Contexts and Methods.’
‘I’m so disappointed in you. So many faults.’ She said, as she placed my paper upside down on the table. My face dropped as she looked at me with quite a serious expression on her face, and then she smiled. I turned over my paper as she went to give a marked exam paper to another student and I smiled too.
40/40. I was so happy. My work was paying off, but it hit perfection that I never thought was possible. A couple of days later I learnt that I had also achieved 40/40 in my second paper on ‘Families and Households.’ I was over the moon. I kept repeating my method of revising for all my subjects as a result.
Fast forward a month, and my Politics teacher seemed to have disappeared. All of his stuff was in his room, yet no one knew of his whereabouts, not even the teachers. The whole school was very concerned. To this day, I still don’t know, but I wouldn’t like to speculate. This meant however that I was received less and less political tutoring. As a school, there was no backup. I previously had two politics teachers, but the other one could cover two out of the five hours a week that we had set in our timetables for this subject. This meant we were left with a (normally clueless) substitute teacher that would let our class do what we wanted. For many, this was the perfect opportunity to relax and go on their phones. Who could blame them? But me, the ever-eager over the top workaholic always conscious of their final grade, was extremely concerned. Thus, this resulted in a LOT of self teach from the textbook. I spent a lot of hours trying to make myself understand political concepts and I worked when others were not. I had a lot of anxiety over the subject going into the year twenty-nineteen because I felt I did not have all the key information to achieve, and I didn’t understand some of the concepts.
In addition, I wasn’t getting assessed. There were no mock exams that determined how well I had picked up the information, simply because they were not arranged. It would be around three/four months until my school eventually found a replacement who came in. This replacement would be the individual who would single-handedly change my life path forever.
The new politics teacher who joined in February was a stark contrast to anything I had experienced in my state school before. Not only did I understand the concept, which was the UK Constitution, extremely well, I also for the first time went to explain everything to my mum when I got home. We were travelling to see a Liverpool Football Club game that particular night, and I blabbed on and on about what statute law, common law and conventions all meant to her, much to her delight. It felt so engaging, so interesting, and also so important. I would say this is where my proper interest and experience with extra curricular work began. By this I mean going beyond revising what the textbook said, but actually being interested in ‘my subject’ which for me was, and is, Politics.
At the time, Theresa May was suffering awful defeats over her Brexit deal in the House of Commons. I took an interest in this and watched the votes come through on BBC Parliament. Later on in the year, my new teacher would also run a lesson dedicated entirely to studying the Conservative party leadership contest which I took an amazing amount of interest in afterwards. If an academic can get you interested in that, that proves just how much of an amazing teacher they are. I loved every lesson I was in and my interest for the subject absolutely soared. It was amazing.
As the months went on, the volume of Future Prospects Talk went considerably up in sixth form. Here’s where I must stress an important comparison point. We had one properly trained careers advisor for the whole school, who visited once every few weeks. The sixth form didn’t have an Oxbridge officer like you hear about in other schools because no one had ever successfully got into Oxbridge. Not a single student.
Unfortunately, the school and its sixth form branch I went to is a very under-performing institution. While teachers can do their best in lessons to get their students interested in their subjects, the career advice I got from my sixth form was next to nothing. We filled out some Word documents about what we possibly may have wanted from our careers, but after we sent those off they were never talked about again.
I do worry that so many students at my school and at other underperforming schools have slipped through the gaps because of approaches like this. Students may have the talent and potential, but that is never recognised because the sixth form’s horizons are so narrow.
At the time, I had ideas. Somewhat. I was very interested in the University of Liverpool. I loved the look of it and wanted to study Politics. The Uni of Liverpool is an absolutely fantastic university, do not get me wrong. But if I’m being totally honest here, my one motivation is because I loved the city beyond words and I also loved Liverpool Football Club and wanted to be in the middle of that ‘atmosphere.’ Apart from that though, I didn’t really think about future prospects and instead vowed to continue working.
Soon the July mock exams for Year 12 rolled around. This was the first time that I would be assessed in any capacity in Politics, so I was very, very nervous. It was also the first serious exams completed in the sports hall. For my English Language exam, I had a horrendous issue with timing and didn’t finish the last question, which was writing an article. I broke down and felt so defeated after this. I still remember the gut wrenching feeling of knowing you wouldn’t finish in time as you watched the time tick down on the sports hall clock every ten seconds or so. Everyone reminded me it was a mock, I reminded them that this was a very important mock as it would determine how well I was doing. What can I say? It’s the downfall of taking your work seriously. What you regard as ‘failures’ hit you ten times harder.
“What you regard as failures hit you ten times harder”
In my mocks, I received the results A*- Sociology, A- Politics B- English Language. I got 80/80 in Sociology again, with my teacher saying that even though she read through the paper so many times, she could not find any faults in it. I found out my results subject by subject by talking to my subject teachers while completing my work experience, which was decorating and doing other odd jobs during the July end of term period within my sixth form. Again, I highlight ‘typical Oxbridge story’ comparisons. Many go off to do amazing and rewarding work experiences such as working in a firm or in the Houses of Parliament. My work experience consisted of doing up display boards and having a boogie to the ‘Ultimate Party Classics’ playlist on Spotify while doing so.
I was very proud of my display board.
I had a week off from working so heavily but during the summer holidays I started my methods again. I rarely had a day off, and if I were to have an evening off I would make sure I would work extremely hard in the day. I had to self teach so much key A-level content. Outside of Sociology, I knew some key information and units had not been taught and compared to other schools, I was behind. So, I set about working twelve hour long days in the boiling sun to try and catch up. It made me so sad when I heard my fellow A-level peers in my classes say they didn’t understand a question in their mock as usually this was no fault of their own; it was the fault of the sixth form for not teaching it properly or not at all. After this summer of study, I was somehow more motivated to start Year 13 off strong I know. I don’t know how I did it either.
I put in seven h0ur study sessions after sixth form each day in Year 13. For the first time, I was also giving up leisure time that I set aside to do things like watch football in Year 12. Looking back, I DO NOT recommend this. It’s very important to have breaks and to kick back every once in a while. In the midst of all my working, I also went to university open days. My first was at King’s College, London.
Stepping into the campus facilities with their towering buildings and pretty architecture, I felt beyond intimidated. I didn’t feel like I was worthy of being in the taster lectures or study at a place like King’s. I was beyond excited at the thought of it, but I didn’t feel like I could ever successfully apply there. It just wouldn’t happen.
Oxbridge never once crossed my mind as I worked through September. One weekend, I started working on my personal statement early, mostly so I could get it out of the way to focus more on studying. By the end of September, I had completely a very rough outline of a first draft that was no where complete but it was a start. I talked about the recent proguing of Parliament, the upcoming presidential elections in Tunisia (as you do) and my blog. I didn’t know who to go to to help with my sixth form to improve it. My institution is by no means high in the league tables. As I’ve said, the sixth form had no Oxbridge officers as no one had ever gone there and the institutions horizons were so narrow. This is largely because the sixth form had never had someone go to Oxbridge in its’ history.
Wanting specialist subject advice from someone who may be able to help, I went to the teacher who had covered my Politics lessons, who had joined the school permanently. I arranged an appointment to discuss my personal statement and I was very nervous when the day arrived.
I awkwardly watched him read over my personal statement before he leaned back in his chair and said the words that would change my life forever.
“Have you considered Oxbridge?”
I stuttered a lot in response. I didn’t know what to say, really. Oxbridge. It was such a scary word. It was something that was only for the ‘elites’ in society. It wasn’t for people like me. Was it? That word was meant for the people who answered all the questions in class when I was in the lower years in high school, if that. It wasn’t meant for me.
Despite feeling apprehensive, I agreed to it. I explained my non- affluent background and how I believed anything like Oxbridge was not meant for people like me. My mum was a guest services advisor and my dad was a manual worker in a factory. Oxbridge wasn’t for people like me. I was reassured that there were many people like me at the University, but I didn’t really believe that initially. This was the first time in my sixth form life that my head had been tilted up towards the glass ceiling. I decided I wanted to apply to Cambridge, and the subject I would apply for would be HSPS- Human, Social and Political Sciences.
I must stress that this meeting happened in early October. To be exact, it happened nine days before the deadline for Oxbridge applications arrived. Nine days! Nine. Days. I only had a rough outline of a personal statement! Because of this, I was assigned lots of reading to do, which was also my first proper exposure to academic reading, over three days. I read three books in three days. It was all bananas!
Things were happening so fast that I didn’t really have a chance to step back and think about it all. I was suddenly in my politics teachers’ office a lot of the time as he talked me through what Oxbridge like seeing in a personal statement, from years of experience. I tried to keep knowledge of it happening off the radar but this soon proved to be impossible. Word got out and suddenly it felt like I was carrying the school’s name entirely on my back and everyone in the corridors began to ask about me. I had to do well. I had to succeed. Otherwise, I would let them down. I got stopped by every single teacher in the corridor who wanted to hear updates. Some teachers talked of a ‘statue’ being built of me. One called me ‘Miss Cambridge.’ Some students said I would ‘be fine’ and I would ‘definitely get in because I was so smart.’ This pressure really took a toll on my mental health and it would keep boiling up until Results Day.
Away from my Cambridge application and my never-ending study antics, I was starting to receive other university offers. I received my first offer from the University of Liverpool, then Manchester, Kings College London. I was over the moon with all of them. They came in such a short space of time as well: all of them came back my Cambridge written assessment at the end of October. Each one I celebrated by cracking open a can of coca cola and listening to ‘Allez, Allez, Allez’ full volume.
ALLEZ, ALLEZ, ALLEZ.
I wasn’t sure how well I did in my Cambridge assessment, largely because my mind throughout it was somewhere else. My dad had gone into hospital a couple of days before, and the doctors were not sure what was the matter with him. He was released a week after my assessment, and not too long after that I got a letter from the post. It had the University of Cambridge logo on the front.
I opened it. I had been invited to an interview. I couldn’t believe it. Straight away, I ran up to the school to find my politics teacher to share the amazing news. He smiled but said there was no time to lose, and my preparation would start as soon as possible.
The time I had to prepare was two weeks. I somehow managed to balance preparation and doing mock interviews while still intensely revising and self-teaching, as I seemed to discover everyday that key A-level content was being missed out of my lessons. It was like I was living a double life: I studied with the rest of my peers and then occasionally went off to learn about Ancient Greek politics or the work of George Orwell in preparation for my interview during some of my free periods. I did two mock interviews thanks to the connections that my politics teacher had.
The mock interviews were enjoyable because it was an experience of academia talk that I had never had the chance to participate in during sixth form. I smiled as I gave my interviewers my responses because they understood every word of what I was saying in terms of political polls, the impact of the media on politics and so on. They challenged my wording or my answers which only brought my thinking to a higher path as I thought of new ways I could answer their questions. According to the feedback that my sixth form received from the mock interviewers, I had done exceptionally well.
Suddenly, it was the day of my official Cambridge interview.
December 9th. It was just over two months since the idea of ever applying to Oxbridge was first introduced to me. Since then, my life had morphed into a pressurised period of preparation, uncertainty and self teaching/revising- always at a rapid pace. It all felt so surreal.
The train ride to Cambridge was one of the longest train rides I’ve ever experienced- and I only live around forty minutes away! I felt like my insides were turning in on themselves due to the nerves.
Despite everything, my background, my short preparation time, my bad high school experience, and everything I’ve mentioned above: I like to believe that my interviews went relatively well. My first one was for Sociology where I talked about Marxism and the glass ceiling. I also intertwined my personal experiences into the points I was making: to not only emphasise my atypical background, but also to show that I was observant to the world around me in a sociological way.
In my politics interview, I was quizzed on the essays that I had submitted to Cambridge during the applications process about the power of EXOP within the US Presidency. I was also asked about one of my favourite subjects: political education. My answer that I gave to that question was extremely long! When asked about any wider reading I had done outside of politics, I mentioned Sociology- which displayed to the interviewers how I was relevant for the particular Cambridge course. I wasn’t just interested in one area of HSPS, but all of it.
The wait over the Christmas holidays to find out if I had got in was typically awful, as any Oxbridge canditate will tell you. I would find out the decision on January 15th. How did I feel around the time? It was a mix of normal nerves, but also intense pressure. No one had ever got in from my state comphrensive sixth form. Everyone always asked about me and how I was getting on. How would tell each and every one of those staff that I didn’t get in, if that’s what happened? I was applying with one other boy from my sixth form who was in the same year as me, and I’m not sure if he felt the same pressure as I did. He applied for HSPS too, but at a different college. The days, although nerve-wracking, went quite fast.
January 15th. My phone buzzed. It was an email notification from Robinson College. I got in.
I can’t describe the feeling. I wish I could relive it again. It was a mix of being happy, feeling proud, feeling great about myself but still not quite believing it. Had the last few months REALLY happened? My life had been turned on its head, and it was changed forever. I knew I had to achieve the grades, A*AA, to officially get in, but I vowed to myself that I would, at whatever cost. There was no going back now. I had achieved the impossible dream at my sixth form. I had gone where no one else at the sixth form had gone before.
Although I can say I put lots of work in to make this happen, if you’ve read everything above you’ll realise that luck is a large element in my story. I recognise that too. What would have happened if it wasn’t suggested by my politics teacher? I certainly wouldn’t have even considered applying to Oxbridge, as my horizons were never broadened in that way. They would have never been broadened in that way. This is what I worry about. There are so many students like me, who have the potential to achieve but their horizons are never broadened due to the sixth form that they go to. They never experience the quality assistance in making their future job prospects a reality like so many private schools and even better state comprehensives do across the country. Instead, those students slip through the gaps and never realise how truly intelligent and smart they are. I will fight to try this all my life, in whatever way I can. That’s why I’m writing this blog post. If I can inspire even one student with my story, that will make me happy beyond belief.
In the last set of mock exams that I completed just after February half term I achieved two A*s and one A. Around that time, I worked so hard one evening that I was physically passed out on the floor. It took me a long time to move again and stand up.
My body was caving in from overwork. I was still self-teaching as the lessons never covered everything we needed to know for our exams, on top of revising. I was getting less and less sleep each night, as I believed I needed to work all the time. I wasn’t resting. This is something I do not reccomend. It is so, so important to have some rest and time for yourself, no matter how much work you’ve got to do! I am a firm believer that if you don’t make time for rest, your body will pick it for you.
An image from of my long studying sessions. I thought the advertisement on Spotify was quite amusing given me what I was doing. It’s almost like it knew! ^
We all know what happened next. In March, the UK went into a national lockdown to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic. A week before this, the A-level exams were cancelled. I felt defeated for a very long time. I had been putting in over 110 hours of studying per week. Because I studied all the time previously, when everything suddenly stopped it was quite hard to find my feet and myself again. Comparing myself in April 2020 to April 2018 is quite a contrast. It shows how significantly I turned my academic career around, but it also gives me incentive to help others; I am not the typical Oxbridge candidate by any means and I follow quite a unique journey. I’m from humble beginnings and I was never the shining light in my high school classroom.
I’m from humble beginnings and I was never the shining light in my high school classroom
Over the months of the first lockdown I plunged myself deep into academic reading for the first time, as I had the time. I also rediscovered who I truly was after all the hard work I put in. Amidst of all the pressure, I realised I had lost myself a little. Applying to such a prestigious university, especially when you take into account my mindset towards studying a few years ago, was a surreal experience. It changed my life and for that I will forever be thankful. However, the heaps of pressure that so many people piled onto me and the enormity of applying took a toll on me. I had been working under such intense conditions and it felt like the sixth form everyday was counting on me to do well. I of course myself wanted to do well. All of that, as well as the physical effort that comes from studying, took a toll on my body and for the first couple of months of lockdown I suffered from severe burnout.
I will not go into detail about what I experienced on Results Day. A blog post detailing my experiences can be found on this blog page. In short, it was a horrible experience and for a while my place was denied at the University of Cambridge. This did eventually change and my place was confirmed- and after a few weeks I decided to take a gap year.
My story isn’t your typical Oxbridge story. It isn’t a story of years and years of training and it isn’t even a story of realising my potential in high school. Instead, it is evidence that anyone can achieve going to a prestigious university. I was the first ever from my sixth form to do so. This fills my pride but also gives me an incentive. Every day so many students are not being guided or advised as they should, compared to students who go to more prestigious schools on their high school journey. Some students at comprehensive state schools never realise how wonderful learning and academia can truly be. They never land themselves a job in a field that they should be in because they never receive the right guidance. They don’t even know the glass ceiling is there. All because their schools are so underfunded and they don’t have the resources that a student who wants to highly achieve needs, both physically and mentally.
If you are a student reading this, or even a person who has high aspirations that they feel like they can’t achieve, this is your sign saying that you can. Even if you feel like you can’t do it, I promise you can. My life momentally changed in under two years. Whatever you’re aiming for, you can do it, I promise you. It doesn’t matter if you feel like others are more experienced than you, smarter than you, more able than you. You are you. You can do it.
If you happen to read this, make no mistake that I hate you, your government, and everything that you stand for. I do not mean that lightly in a passing comment way, either. I hate you. You and your administration have severely effected by mental health and ripped my confidence into pieces. I’ve gone from a sociable, hardworking and genuinely happy individual into an anxiety ridden, under- confident mess. That is all because of you. I know I’m not the only one. I’m only eighteen years old, I turned eighteen three days before you butchered my confidence forever. How can you sleep at night?
First of all, how can you seriously commit to the empty rhetoric you make in your press conferences? How can you possibly say you’re doing everything you can to help the COVID-19 crisis when your track and trace system has fallen to pieces and is unresponsive? That’s all on you and your administration. No one else. Stop blaming the public for your incompetency. While European countries such as Italy and Germany have effective Track and Trace Systems to help keep their public safe, more and more people are becoming infected with this deadly disease so much so that there are threats of the NHS being overwhelmed once again and the prospect of a second lockdown. The majority of people have been following the social distancing rules, the majority wear masks.
Stop trying to blame the public. A few people breaking the rules by throwing parties and holding gatherings has not caused this second outbreak. It is you. You forced schools to open. You forced universities to organise themselves to reopen with ever-changing guidelines. You recommended people to Eat Out to Help Out. You recommended shopping, cinema viewing, restaurant going. We are only doing what you told us, or as much as what we can make out from your confusing, contradicting guidelines. Yet, you have the cheek to blame us for a rise in infections and especially young people in the North. This is all on you. Stop trying to defect blame. I have no doubt you were told the risks, and predicted what would happen as you enforced these measures. The cynic in me thinks this is what you wanted all along in your herd immunity, eugenic driven mind.
I could go on and on about your chaotic handling of this country over the past year, so much so that I would run out of superlatives. I will do in another blog post in time.
You’re probably wondering how you effected my confidence to such an extent, and how you initiated what I described at this start of this blog post. I’ll tell you how, Prime Minister.
Allow me to introduce myself first. I’m an eighteen year old girl, and I went to a sixth form that branches off the comprehensive secondary school I attended. My sixth form’s last OFSTED report was “requires improvement.” I didn’t have a teacher for one of my A-levels for five months. I spent the twenty nineteen summer holidays revising, and I gave myself only one week off. I was determined to succeed even though yourself and your party expect people like me to fail. Against all of your odds and the ways in which your political party has moulded this country, I received an offer from the University of Cambridge to study Human, Social and Political Sciences. One person had received an offer before in my sixth form, but didn’t get the grades to fulfil it. I was working consistently at the grades A*A*A before lockdown. My sixth form predicted me to be on course to achieve A*A*A*. I was looking like the first student to go to Cambridge ever from my sixth form. Now you know who I am, let me take you back two months, to August.
The middle of August is always a worrying time for seventeen, eighteen and nineteen year olds in higher education as they await to find their A-level results. Normally, their focus of worries is on whether they answered a question correctly, whether they performed well enough in a particular exam, and so on. My year didn’t get to experience this. You cancelled our exams in the middle of the March. I still remember how I felt when you announced this and in the days after. I was worried sick as to how the exams would be marked and what would you use. You had no plan. You never do. I understand to an extent, though. You had other big issues to make hopeless plans for at the time. You did though have a whole five months, nearly half a year, to sort out how our grades would be handed out. Each individual would no doubt be given grades that reflected their academic ability and they could progress on to the next stage of their life. There is no way you could possibly get that wrong, with all those months to prepare and liaise with the exam boards and regulators.
I remember at the start of August reading an article from The Telegraph about how your administration had chosen to hand out A-level grades. It detailed the fact that an individual’s school, and the grades that pupils had achieved in that school in the years before, would have an influence on the grades that were handed out for this year. I felt sick instantly. No one from my sixth form had ever achieved high grades in my subjects. Would that be the one thing that would hold me back from going to Cambridge? How was that fair? I frantically emailed my tutor who had helped me throughout the Cambridge admissions process and he tried to reassure me. He explained to me how the grading system in the UK normally worked, and it didn’t look like I would be affected in any negative way. According to him, some grades for A-level had been lowered only by one grade, most not at all. I would be fine. Any sane person with any common sense would have made sure myself and everyone in the same position would be fine. Not you though. Of course not you, Prime Minister.
As I went to sleep the night before I found out my grades, I felt sick with worry. My disadvantaged situation had always been what had spurred me on to achieve, and now it might be the one thing that held me back.
I opened up UCAS the following morning, sick with nerves about how you had handled my economic status, and how you had treated working class students. It took forty minutes to finally load the webpage as it had crashed that morning. I should’ve seen this as a sign, as it set the precedent for the events that I was going to experience. I logged on and found that my University of Cambridge application had been ‘unsuccessful.’ I was upset, of course I was. This unfortunately happens to students every year. I also felt confused. What else could I had done academically? I worked, and worked, and worked. I calculated in February that on average I spent one hundred and ten hours studying a week for my A-levels. In this unique year when I didn’t have official exams to prove myself, what else could I have possibly done, Prime Minister?
I walked downstairs from my bedroom to meet my mum in the living room and it felt like taking the walk of shame. I didn’t just felt upset, I felt confused. More than anything, I felt powerless. As I started crying into her hug, it wasn’t too long before my upset turned into anger within a matter of milliseconds. I kicked over living room furniture as I cursed your horrible elitist methods. It was lucky my dad was also in the living room as I would have most likely thrown my studying chair out of the living room window. He had to stop me as I raged over my economic status and the subsequent label that you placed on me because of that.
I then had to face going up to the sixth form, which was for the first time a daunting prospect. Before lockdown I walked the corridors happily, buzzing to learn and study more and more until I reached my final goal. I walked through the doors on Results Day with my head down, my head heavy with confusion, rage and upset all at once. I felt sick as I opened my grade paper and found out I had been downgraded twice in Sociology and downgraded once in Politics. Thus, I had achieved a A*AB. A*A*A*. Not exactly the same, are they? Not bad by any means, but not enough to fulfill my goal. In my last two Sociology mock exams in November, I had achieved 96% in Paper One and 92% in Paper Two. I rarely dropped more then one mark in homework and assigned essays. Somehow, that warranted a B-grade. In my most recent mock exam in Politics, I had achieved an A*. Somehow warranted a downgrade.
We all know why. The average grades for my school in years before had been Cs and Ds. I had been judged according to my background, and I had been disadvantaged. I wasn’t judged on my individual ability as I was promised I would be. It made me feel pain that I cannot describe. You’ll never understand what that feels like, your future handed on you based on your background. Like many people across the year, I was just another statistic to you. You didn’t handle my case on an individual basis, you passed me through an algorithm with no hesitation. I’ve read enough of his blog posts to know that your special advisor favours statistics and statistical modelling above anything, Prime Minister. He’s convinces it’s the right way of doing things. Tell me, is this right?
I then went through plans about what would happen next. My tutor mentioned an appeals process, but no one had any idea as to what that would involve. It would be announced Monday, apparently. The day was Thursday. What would we do until then? What would I do until then? There was no plan. As I said before, you never have one. When I back into my sixth form hall the Head Of The Sixth Form came up to me and excitedly said that my performance was top 15% in the county and I was thus a Norfolk scholar. It meant nothing to me. In terms of the day itself, I felt deflated. This is the one day that I had looked forward to the entirety of lockdown. It was written in permanent marker on my calendar, and I was certain it would be a celebratory one as I was certain I had ‘done it.’ Why shouldn’t I have felt like that? All the hours that I had put in would finally be celebrated. Instead, you left me horrified, confused and upset with a stabbing pain in my stomach.
I nearly fainted in my school reception due to this combination of emotions as I tried to contact my admissions tutor for my College. At the time, I was angry at them too, but looking back I am not. They were chucked in this mess that you created just as much as me, and there was nothing that they could do until you announced a plan for resolving this mess. You didn’t have this, of course. Your Department of Education Minister didn’t either, who is somehow still in his job to this day.
When I got home, I tried to get myself together. However, the pit in my stomach, which had now turned into anger, knew that I could simply not keep silent over this. I tweeted about my cause on the A-level results day hashtag, which got significant attention and started to reach more and more people. It was the power of the people, Prime Minister, that gave my cause attention. That is something you always underestimate. If not for people caring about young people’s stories, I am confident that a U-turn would never have happened. It wasn’t long before my direct messages on Twitter started filling up with journalists wanting to share my story. I didn’t reply to many of them. My trust levels with people were generally at an all time low, which was the start of my confidence dipping. When I woke up the next morning, my tweet had reached astonishing figures and 1.5 million people had viewed it. I woke up just in time to see both James Felton and Matt Haig retweet my cause, which was quite the moment.
For the large part though, I was left in the dark about what would happen next. There was no hint of any remorse from you or your ministers. All of your government ministers were too concerned about toeing the party line and trying to up your self confidence in your administration than you were to fixing our problems. I watched your colleague Gavin Williamson say that there would be categorically no U-turn in terms of A-level grades, and I broke down. 40% of grades had been downgraded, most I would assume wrongly. Why would you do this to us? What was the reason? To halt social mobility?
As I watched you, Prime Minister, in an interview also defend the algorithm that had put us in this place saying it was ‘robust’ and that most pupils had received the correct grades, I felt despair. I had never felt like I did then. I was questioning why I should ever study and pursue an academic path, as there was no point. I was convinced I would always be disadvantaged. I would always have this label on my back, and you had shown that in big, bold colours. This is what you did, Prime Minister. I watched Newsnight to view the special report on the A-level grading chaos and I heavily despaired over interviews of students who were in the exact same position around me. We all felt a collective sadness, despair and hopelessness over our positions that we could not change. I would not wish that feeling on anyone. No one, apart from you.
I was lucky that at the time I had something to indulge myself in (Chess The Musical) which was a distraction from my current heart wrenching situation. A musical about a Chess championship in the middle of the Cold War set in Merano and Bangkok produced in the eighties was and felt like an entire world away, and was an escape from the time I found myself imprisoned in. I still listen to this masterpiece and remember how I felt when blasting these songs as my escape route.
It didn’t always work, however. As the interactions on my tweet began to slow down and there was still no news about what you would do, I tried revising. There was rumours that some students would have to take exams in the Autumn, and therefore I had to prepare for them. I realised my normally successful way of revising wasn’t working. I couldn’t concentrate. In my mind, there was an omnipresent voice screaming that I wasn’t good enough. My grades were proof I was not good enough. All the confidence that I built up concerning my studies over the past two years had gone. The information that I had gone through countless of times before wasn’t sinking in, and my mind put up a mental block on trying to remember it again. It was then I realised the imprint that your algorithm had put on my brain, Prime Minister. It’s not as strong, but it’s still there, and I feel no way near as confident as I used to be. It would be later on that I would realise my confidence was affected in all areas, and in some regard, I am still a shadow of my former self. I did not do anything to initiate this. This is all because of you. Again, I ask, how can you sleep at night? You’ve left an imprint on my confidence that I cannot shake, you placed a label on me and convinced me that’s what I was. That’s what the exam paper slip said, after all.
That night I was gripped to the social media site of Twitter, searching and hoping for any update on a possible U-turn. I felt a pain on my lungs and hurt every time I breathed. It hurt even more if I thought about what happened. It was getting to the point where I was so devastated, confused and horrified that I physically couldn’t breathe. I tried to write a post for my blog about how I was feeling but I couldn’t bring myself to do anything. The title was ‘an illness is on my lungs: the illness of social disadvantage’ which was undoubtedly how I felt. I felt broken. I was a broken person. All the talk about the reduction of class importance within the UK in the past few years, in my view, has been contradicted. Class barriers are very much still present in society, and you, Prime Minister, and your team in government reinforced them to an even further extent in the year 2020. You just didn’t make it a label or a status, you made it our defining factor, our definition . You make me feel sick. How did you let this happen?
It was nearly midnight when the news spread around the social media like wildfire that the page on OFQUAL, introduced earlier on in the day outlining a grade appeals process, had been taken down. I couldn’t believe it. There was no plan. No one knew what was going on, and those who were meant to be sorting out our problems seems to be just as much in the dark, despite having five months to prepare for this. This broke me. I sobbed to my parents and had multiple panic attacks that night because I couldn’t handle it anymore. I was in a ball on my bedroom floor, shaking like a leaf, punching the floor as I experienced a series of panic attacks, something I have not experienced in a long time. The words that I kept repeating to my parents were half audible apologies that I didn’t do enough. “I didn’t work hard enough. I didn’t achieve as much as I should have. I’m sorry.” This is how you made me feel, and I have not recovered, Prime Minister. Ever since that night, my confidence has been shot and it has not been the same.
The next day I watched the footage of student protests come through and I felt proud, but also kept a substantial amount of anger within me as the cause was not yet over. Finally, The Labour Party started piping up and were pressuring you to hold an emergency meeting and conference over this crisis. And then, the next day, we all know what happened next. The U-Turn happened. This is what Williamson had previously said, forty eight hours ago, would never happen. Of course, there was well deserved jubilation from students all across the country. Not for me though, I had to wait a few days until my place was finally confirmed.
This is amazing, but then, why was all the suffering necessary? Why did you have to enforce the classist, elitist algorithm in the first place? It is disgusting the way you treated me and my fellow peers, mostly in a disadvantaged position, and the suffering you put us through. Even if you decided to use the wretched algorithm, why didn’t you have a method of appeal sufficiently put in place when things inevitably went wrong? It’s because all of your incompetence. You and your administration, and only yourselves, caused all of this. It didn’t have to happen. The indescribable suffering that I and many others went through never had to happen if you were always going to U-turn like the calamitous government you are. If someone said turn left, you would turn right thinking you’re better, inevitably realise you’re wrong but wouldn’t want to admit it, and then eventually turn back. Your whole administration is like a father who thinks he can operate on a car holiday journey without using the map because he thinks he knows best. You’re a disgrace.
I’ve wanted to write and articulate my experience for a while, but it was meeting a government minister in person for a photo for them to use as silly PR that pushed me to finally start writing. The photo was used so they could pose with the first ever offer holder from my sixth form. I found that revolting. The experience is hard to talk about, as the effect for me is still here. I do not still feel like I am good enough, no matter what anyone tells me. The imprint will be left on my mind and especially my academic pursuit for a long while. This was not inevitable. It could have been avoided.
I’m sure I’m not the only one. Many have suffered because of your actions, or they did suffer in that time. I would not be surprised in the slightest if at the time it got too much for some young individuals, with young minds, with all their future ahead of them. Think about that for a moment. Again, this was avoidable. We didn’t deserve what happened to us and how you treated us as we put through a horrendous algorithm.
Of course, many people have moved on, as there are many other pressing stories to talk about, mainly caused and due to the incompetence of your administration. The effect and the experience will stay with me for a long time. I have had nightmares about reliving the day I found out, and sometimes I shut my eyes and remember how hard it was to breathe because of my suffering, all because of you. To quote my favourite musical, it was a case of ‘playing games… using our lives for nothing’ in reference to politics activity, and that rings true with you.
I am now in an intermitting year because of many factors but one of them is because of this. I remind you again that the suffering you put me through, and the mindset that is now with me, was all avoidable. This was never meant to happen. It’s sad that this is one of your failures, and so many more people have been affected in different ways due to your actions and the country that you are failing to handle. It’s disgusting. It’s every awful superlative you can think of. I worry they’ll be more horrendous actions that you’ll take that will have disastrous consequences while you’re in power.
You never truly understand what other people have been through in expense of governments until you experience the pain yourself.
I ask again: how you can sleep at night?
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