Jessica Johnson, who won Orwell youth prize for dystopian tale, hopes U-turn will restore university place
An 18-year-old student who predicted this year’s A-level results crisis in an award-winning dystopian story about an algorithm deciding school grades according to social class, has had her own results downgraded.
“I’ve fallen into my story. It’s crazy,” said Jessica Johnson, a student at Ashton Sixth Form College in Greater Manchester. “I based it on the educational inequality I already saw. I just exaggerated that inequality and added the algorithm. But I really didn’t think it would come true as quick as it did!”
Johnson won an Orwell youth prize senior award in 2019 for her short story titled A Band Apart, which was the first one she had written. Set in 2029, it imagined a system where students were sorted into bands based on their background. “Mum still thinks I can be a doctor. She doesn’t understand how hard it is to get into Band 1 for people like us,” says a character in the story.
Johnson had her English A-level result downgraded from A to B and lost her place at the University of St Andrews before the government’s U-turn on Monday. Now that results will be based on teacher assessments instead, she is hopeful that her place will be restored.
“I’ve been so stressed and anxious these past few days, waiting to hear back from universities,” she said. “We got told you can go wherever you want in life if you work hard enough, but we’ve seen this year that no matter how hard you worked, you got given a grade based on where you live.”
Prof Jean Seaton, director of the Orwell prize, said: “Jessica saw into the heart of what the system represents and her story demonstrates the human ability which exams only exist to uncover.”
Johnson said the inspiration behind her writing was to mix educational inequality with the dystopian genre. “It’s not exactly a fairy tale I wanted to come true!”