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My Journey from Hinde House to Oxford University

On 6th January 2016, I was offered a place to study Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE) at Oxford University. Here is my story...

My journey began in Y8, when I was beginning to express enthusiasm for my education. I was in set 3 for Science, set 2 for Maths and English, and in the bottom set for MFL and other subjects. I was below average and I wanted to change this.

At home, on weekends, I began to do extra Maths revision – about 2 hours a week – and before I knew it, I began to get good marks in the end of year exams. By January, I was moved to the top set. English followed next; where I moved to the top set and by the beginning of Y10, I was in the top set for all my subjects. Self-motivation and application was the key!

I consider Y10 to be the academic year that made all the difference. One trigger point being in Mrs Robshaw’s English class, when I got full marks on two pieces of course work. It was one of the proudest moments of my life. I felt I could do anything now, because English had always been my weakest subject. I put an extraordinary amount of effort in; ensuring I pushed myself and responded to every piece of feedback.

Although I was working really hard in English, I was becoming complacent in Maths and my grade was stagnating. Luckily, my brilliant Maths teacher; Miss Quinn (who also studied PPE at Oxford), picked up on how demotivated I was and gave me a book to read called ‘Bounce’. It changed everything. It explained the difference between those that have fixed mind-sets; believing that how good they are is determined by the natural skill they were born with, thus feel they cannot improve them, and those that have growth mind-sets; believing that how good they are is determined by how hard they work, and that with enough hard work, they can achieve anything.

In Y10, I became inquisitive about the world around me and Miss Quinn gave me two further books; Jonathan Woolf’s ‘Introduction to Political Philosophy’ (ideas that I would later be questioned on during my Oxford interview), and Steven Landsburg’s ‘Armchair Economist’.

I was also involved in extra-curricular activities. One of my favourites was the aptly named, ‘A* Club’, in which we solved tricky but fun Maths puzzles. I also played football, for both the school team and a local Sunday league club.

In English, we studied great works of literature; George Orwell’s ‘Animal Farm’ and J B Priestley’s ‘An Inspector Calls’, and I began to learn to challenge the status quo and to question everything. A visit from Miss Quinn’s friend taught us that how much power we had was determined by how much power we thought we had. I used this idea to bring about a change to the Y11 curriculum; I used a petition and an in-depth, eight page letter to justify my ideas for change. After reading it, Miss Potts said she’d be surprised if I didn’t end up as Prime Minister!

I enjoyed having Mr Aoun for Maths; his unorthodox style taught me a lot about hard work. I pushed myself as hard as possible - and I left Hinde House with two A*s in Maths (GCSE and IGCSE) and the highest score in Algebra 3, as well as an A from sitting Statistics early in Y10.

Applying for Sixth Form was a lot of fun and I went along to many open days across the city. At first, I wanted to apply for a scholarship at Birkdale, but after visiting it I decided it wasn’t for me and private education went against my principles. During an interview at Chapeltown Academy, I was asked if I’d ever considered applying to Oxford or Cambridge. I’d never thought about it before, but the thought just stayed with me ever since. After securing a place to study A-levels at Chapeltown Academy, it helped me to focus and get through the summer GCSE exams, and I left Hinde House with 4 A*s, 3 A’s and 3 B’s!

Chapeltown Academy organised a trip to Oxford and I fell in love with the city and the university; I knew I wanted to be studying there in two years’ time. I was also lucky enough to get a work experience with my local MP, Clive Betts, where I learned what a career as a politician was actually like. Believing I could achieve A*AA at A-levels if I worked hard enough, I decided to apply for a degree in Politics, Philosophy and Economics at Oxford, as their entry requirements were 3 A’s.

The week before my interview at Oxford was intense, but the best feedback and advice I was given was just to be myself, and this is exactly what I did for my real interview. During the Politics interview I was very nervous; the interviewers seemed to be playing ‘good cop, bad cop’, with one rebutting every point I made, while the other welcomed every point I made. I also had to sit a Maths test for Economics, as well as reading a short extract which would be the discussion point for the Philosophy interview. At the end of the interviews, one of the tutors said, “Well done, you did well”.

After an anxious month of waiting to hear back, I opened my emails and there was an email with the subject, ‘Your Oxford Application’. I took a second or two, took a deep breath, then opened it and saw the words that would change my life – ‘Dear Mr Ibrahim, I am pleased to offer you a place to read Philosophy, Politics and Economics’. I was so relieved, yet so shocked – it would take several days for the news to sink in.

[Abdulla Ibrahim]

Article Published : 26/2/2016