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Inspirational stories emerge as York College welcomes GCSE students on results day

Students receiving their GCSE results at York College have told how they studied through lockdown and personal adversity to achieve their grades.

The College opened its doors on Thursday to welcome GCSE students of all ages, who were given their results and offered advice on progressing their studies.

Amongst those celebrating was 21-year-old Abdul Karim Bitar, who arrived in York from war-torn Syria in 2017, unable to speak English. After studying English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) for two years, Abdul achieved a Grade 4 in English and a Grade 5 in Maths, while studying his first year of a Level 3 Information Technology course.

“The first six months in the UK were the hardest of my life,” he said. “I had no friends, I didn’t speak the language and I had no education. My parents had it tough too, so I thought rather than sit around I needed to do something.

“I began to teach myself English by watching YouTube and I did a lot of writing too. I would fill whole notebooks by copying stories and using Google Translator to convert them from Arabic to English.

“I started at York College in 2018 studying ESOL. From there I began my GCSEs and also started an IT course. This was the hardest year for me - everyone was English and I was nervous about asking questions in case I looked silly, but I made friends and gained confidence. There were people on my course overcoming disabilities and they motivated me a lot. They did really well and made me realise there are always people with more challenges than yourself.

“At York College I’ve learned you should always try your hardest but also make the most of the help that comes to you.”

Fellow GCSE student Tina Chimalilo achieved the highest possible GCSE grade in both English and Maths. Following an army career, she now plans to continue her studies with a view to beginning an access course in September before studying dietetics at university.

“Hard work pays,” she said. “I’m very happy today but I never got too proud. I knew my potential but was willing to go back to basics with my GCSEs and I’ve exceeded my expectations. I got top marks so I might allow myself dinner at Nando’s today.”

Adult student, Kevin Wright is now considering a career in teaching after successfully achieving GCSE Grade 4 Maths, despite a tough start.

He said: “I found my first two mock-exams humbling in that I didn’t do as well as I thought I would. But I buckled down, spent my free time revising and started an extra maths class on a Wednesday and began to improve. The next month I did better and was recording good grades.

“I’m autistic so I found lockdown a big disruption, but working from home I was able to find a routine.”

Kevin now intends to study for his PGCE teacher training qualification.

Graham Baker York College’s Head of Curriculum for Foundation English and Maths, said: “It’s been a fantastic result for the students in a year of adversity. The majority of the year has been spent online and the students have shown dedication and commitment so it’s fantastic to see them rewarded for their efforts.

“We’ve definitely seen improvements, over last year in grade profiles. This is testament to the work the students and the staff have put in.

“Congratulations to everyone.”

If you are considering returning to education to achieve GCSE English, Maths or Biology, or would like information on studying ESOL, find out more here.