A plea to Oxbridge colleges to honour their offers…from someone who would have missed out
My most cherished correspondence dates back to December 23, 2002: an offer letter from St Anne’s College, Oxford, to pursue a degree in mathematics. The dream subject at the dream university, and the catalyst for my development as mathematician and educator. I sat my exams, earned my grades, gleefully took my place. I didn’t realise it then, but that made me one of the lucky ones.
If history does not repeat itself then surely it rhymes. At around the same time I was preparing for my A Levels and looking ahead to Oxford, the SARS coronavirus emerged. I knew little of it then; truth is, I know little of it now. As a would-be pandemic, it scarcely registered on my radar. I was blissfully unaware of the disruptive force of deadly viruses (though a sensationalised plot in television series 24 kept me up some nights). That a virus could thwart my exam grades never occurred to me.
Almost two decades on, I remain among the lucky ones. COVID-19 has not, so far, affected my health or job prospects. I have embraced the middle-class trope of converting my conservatory to makeshift home office in a sleepy Oxfordshire town. Here I can remain productive and isolated from the threat of infection. My good fortune owes much to the safety net afforded by my Oxford and Harvard degrees, underpinned by an eight-year stint at St Anne’s. My work, as it happens, resides in the education sector, exploring innovative approaches to learning and assessment. Never has it felt more pertinent.
Exam results day usually prompts a small bout of nostalgia as I revel in former glories and think back to those pivotal moments in my education. This week, my nostalgia was laced with a profound sense of injustice. When I hear accounts of state-educated students being downgraded on the basis of their school’s past performance, I know full well that in a different time and place, that could have been me. It would have been me.
My school had little precedent for straight-A students. One exception was my older brother, though a single data point would surely not be enough to rescue me from algorithmic judgements (and, I hasten to add in the spirit of enduring sibling rivalry, his results weren’t quite as good as mine). The problem with forging…