Testing times as our students get results

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Thousands of teenagers will be absorbing AS and A level results, out yesterday – including my own son, Chris.

Part of his anxiety no doubt is, as the second child, the pressure to live up to his big brother’s achievement. PJ has just completed his second year of a law degree at Queen’s University and next week will leave Northern Ireland for a year’s study in America so will graduate a year later than originally planned, but with an additional qualification and the experience of study abroad to add to his CV.

Exam results aren't the be all and end all

Exam results aren't the be all and end all

Like a lot of families these two brothers are very different. How does that happen? Your children grow up in the same house, have the same parents, you give them the same opportunities, pass on the same values and principles but here are two boys with personalities, attitudes and talents that are chalk and cheese.

One is driven, studious, has a small and solid group of very good and loyal friends who generally have the same focused attitude as him – he works hard and is very clear about his future and what he wants it to look like.

The other boy is easy-going and still not sure where life will take him, preferring to keep his options open. He makes friends easily and has dozens of them from different schools. He’s creative – a Grade 8 guitar student - and can play anything from classic rock to gypsy jazz and it is either his music or his acting performances that bring him to the stage regularly.

As parents, we’ve been trying to underline the importance of doing well in exams, but we’ve also been trying to assure Chris that whatever his results, there are always options.

And that’s something my colleagues and I at Belfast Met will be trying to stress next week to the students who come to clearing days, A-level results in hand. Perhaps they didn’t get the grades they’d hoped for and are worried about what’s next.

Further education was the making of me. I didn’t engage that well at secondary school and didn’t have the chance to do A-levels and university as a teenager but when I went to ‘tech’ as it was called then, the future opened up. Years later I completed my higher education degree and am still studying – this time for a PGCE. That’s lifelong learning alright.

Earlier this week I had a catch up with the man who brought our two sons safely into the world, Professor Jim Dornan, who has remained a good friend. I updated him on the ages and progress of both boys, including the building tension of those AS results.

Jim told me the story of his own A-level results, which were, he said, ‘just ok’. Still, he was relieved to be offered a place at Trinity College, Dublin, to study medicine.

The only times he had been to Dublin, he explained, were for rugby internationals so he associated the place with great nights out and celebrations. He had heard that Trinity took in a certain number of first year medical students but that early on the university would shed those who didn’t step up and do the work. Taking those two facts into consideration, he repeated his A-levels and a year later with ace grades was accepted to study medicine at Queen’s University Belfast.

There are always options in life, and particularly in education. And exam results don’t have to define who you are or what you will become.