YOU can’t blame Martha Edwards for being furious. After two years of intense study - and all the highs and lows that come with A-levels - the 18-year-old ended up with downgraded results and her university dreams in tatters.

“You have stolen the future that I had shaped for myself with my tears and late nights of school work,” wrote Martha in a moving letter to Education Secretary Gavin Williamson which went viral; expressing the dismay felt by tens of thousands of kids who had the misfortune to be the class of 2020.

I think A-levels are the toughest exams. You get three years, or more, to do a degree, but with A-levels you’re learning several different subjects in a relatively short timespan, and the pressure is intense. Everything depends on those exam results.

“In all those assemblies I attended in school, I was always told that, through hard work, my dreams were possible,” wrote Martha. “I was never told in those assemblies that my parents had to be rich for me to attend the top universities...or that my postcode mattered.”

I went to the same school as Martha and, like her, I was told that hard work and A-levels were a gateway to opportunity. At least I got to sit mine. After being denied the chance to take their exams, due to panic measures sparked by coronavirus, Martha and her contemporaries fell victim to a cold, hard algorithm that reduced almost 40per cent of A-level grades from teachers’ predictions. It’s a system that was always going to penalise youngsters from disadvantaged backgrounds, or pretty much anyone without the privilege of attending a high achieving, often expensive, school.

Gavin Williamson says he worked with Ofqual “to construct the fairest possible model”, but basing results on a mathematical process that has as its biggest element a school’s performances over the past three years is hardly fair. It might be consistent, but it doesn’t take each student into account.

Nisha Shahid went to an inner city state school and was predicted AAA. Her BCB downgrade has “snatched away” her dream of a dentistry degree.

The Government’s U-turn - who knew the people best qualified to predict exam results would be the teachers, you know, those professionals who are well aware of their pupils’ abilities? - is a ray of light for A-level students, and teenagers receiving GCSE results tomorrow. But kids like Martha and Nisha, who’ve already lost university places, still face uncertainty.

Why wasn’t more trust placed in teachers to estimate grades? And why weren’t students allowed to sit exams in the first place? Coursework was pretty much finished when lockdown began, and exam conditions are socially distanced. The public was free to traipse around supermarkets in May and June, without wearing masks, so surely A-level and GCSE students could have sat two metres apart in exam halls, spilling into empty classrooms if necessary.

Of everyone affected by the Covid pandemic, it’s young people I feel for most. Overnight, they lost the rites of passage - exams, Prom, parties, the rituals of leaving school - of those summer days before September brings a new chapter. This stuff stays with you.

The misery of results day stays too. It was over 30 years ago, but I still recall standing in tears outside the factory where I spent the summer packing crisps, bereft because my A-level grades weren’t what I’d hoped for. I can’t imagine the distress of having my future decided by an algorithm devised by politicians and mathematicians who probably went to a better school than I did.