Words by Ayesha Holderness and Shukri Abdullahi

Every year, Brighton College pupils in the lower sixth are buddied up with their peers from the London Academy of Excellence in Stratford in the East End in order that, despite often very different backgrounds, they can work with and help each other. The LAE, a flagship free school which looks over the 2012 Olympic site, was created when Brighton College’s headmaster Richard Cairns teamed up with inspirational East London state school head Joan Deslandes to create a Sixth Form catering for the highest achieving 16-year-olds in the Newham borough. Brighton College’s Ayesha Holderness, 18, and the LAE’s Shukri Abdullahi, also 18, from east London, were buddied in 2015 and became firm friends. They are now both first years in the same hall at Cambridge University where they are both studying medicine.


When school told me we were going to buddy up with pupils from the LAE, we were excited but, I must admit, a little bit apprehensive too. I wasn’t actually meant to be Shukri’s buddy but the girl who was, was off sick so I took her under my wing and she became my buddy – I guess it was meant to be. We hit it off – and spent most of the time talking about making the transition from GCSE to A-Level and the work we had to do. When Shukri came to Brighton, she sat in on our lessons and we helped each other out which I think made us realise how similar we are.  We were both doing exactly the same A-Levels – Biology, Chemistry and Maths, with Shukri also doing Further Maths. We had plenty to chat about! It was great to share both our worries and aspirations together and gee each other along.

We exchanged phone numbers after we first met and have kept in touch ever since. We hadn’t said to each other that we were applying to Queens so I was stunned when I realised – by looking at the Queen’s College Facebook page in August – that we were not only going to be studying the same course at the same uni but also in the same college! We are even in the same medical set at Cambridge which makes it even more unbelievable.

I think the buddy scheme is a great idea, it really helped us both in the application process and  I can’t imagine my first few months here without having Shukri – it has been a real comfort in that everything’s-brand-new first term.”


I went to Langdon Park in Poplar before the LAE so arriving at Brighton College was exciting – walking through the arch, it seemed grand. I had only heard of the school because our own school houses are named after the independent schools that support LAE so it was great to see the place my house had been named after. And then when I met Ayesha and the other pupils at the school, it was nice to discuss our similar aspirations and life goals. It was incredibly helpful that they grouped us according to what A-Levels we were doing so that we had a talking point straight away. We encouraged each other as we went through the uni application process but I had no idea that Ayesha was actually applying to Queen’s so when we found out in August we were incredibly excited. My mum was so shocked by it too and obviously delighted that I would have someone I already knew in my first months at Cambridge