Pupils at Educating Cardiff's Willows High School celebrate their GCSE results
Next week, they will be hitting our tv screens as stars of the latest Channel 4 Educating series, but this week it was all about the GCSEs.
Anxious pupils flooded into Willows High School in Tremorfa, Cardiff, to collect their much-anticipated exam results that marked the culmination of a year of work documented by Educating Cardiff.
“We have come a long way, but there is still progress to be made,” said head teacher Joy Ballard.
This year, 48% of the pupils achieved the core GCSE benchmark of five A* to C grades, including maths, plus English or Welsh.
The figure was down slightly on 50% last year, but still a huge increase from 14% in 2011 when Mrs Ballard first arrived at the school.
Highest ever number of A and A* grades
Willows also achieved its highest ever proportion of A and A* grades, which accounted for 22% of the qualifications gained.
Jack Meek, 16, from Tremorfa, achieved the A*s he worked hard for in music and drama, as well receiving good results in Welsh, English, science, history, photography and IT.
“It has gone really, really well – a lot better than I was expecting,” he said.
The teenager has been on holiday in Spain with his family and is now planning to study music, drama and English at St David’s College.
Jack, who played Danny in the school’s recent production of Grease, hopes to work in a recording studio one day.
Bethan Hooton, from Gabalfa, passed three BTECs and eight GCSEs, including A in Welsh and B in history.
“Last night, I woke up at 6am and I was pacing around, which I knew was ridiculous because I couldn’t get my results for another three hours.
“I was fairly sure I had nothing to worry about because I had worked really hard. I knew the grades I wanted, so I came in as soon as I could to get it out of the way.”
Bethan Hooton, aged 16, left, opens her GSCE results with mum Kate Hooton, outside Willows High School, Cardiff.
She is now planning to study A levels in English literature, history and sociology at Cardiff and Vale College.
“I absolutely adore history and I love reading too,” said the 16-year-old, who was deputy head girl last year and is currently working her way through a reading list including Jane Eyre.
'We need to keep improving'
Abby Smart, 16, from Tremorfa, is also planning to study for an A level in English literature, after achieving As in English language and literature, plus an A* in music.
The teenager also completed BTECs in health and social care, plus hospitality and catering.
“The exams were really stressful, but it was worth all the work,” she said. “I couldn’t sleep last night and I was so nervous when I came in today.”
She is planning to study philosophy, psychology, English literature and biology at St David’s College and in the future, hopes to work in psychotherapy.
Channel 4 were filming pupils learning their GSCE results at Willows High School, Cardiff.
While many of the pupils were delighted with their results, the teachers were on hand to offer support to those who had not done as well as they hoped.
“People talk about how many pupils have achieved five A* to C grades, but you have to remember the ones who haven’t,” said Mrs Ballard.
“We have come a long way, but they are the reason we need to keep improving. We are not there yet – there is more progress to make.”
In 2014, 50% of the pupils achieved five A* to C grades, including English and maths – up from 37% in 2013.
“This year, we had an interesting year group,” explained the head teacher. “They were expected to be a low-achieving cohort.”
Targets set by the Welsh Government predicted 24% of the pupils would receive five A* to C grades, including English and maths.
Half of the pupils in the year group received free school meals – above the school average of 45%.
Mrs Ballard said: “In terms of this particular cohort, we have doubled the expectations of the Welsh Government. They have achieved way beyond what was expected of them.”