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Pupils take ambition to another level despite cuts

RESULT: Happy Newham Sixth Form College students display their exam results with principal Eddie Playfair

“AT FIRST A-levels were difficult to grasp, but after a while I realised a lot of work was needed to be put in daily to get the grades,” sixth former Israel Kolade told The Voice. Like his fellow students of Newham Sixth Form College, and six-formers across the country, he has had to endure a nervy couple of days – waiting to discover exam results that determine immediate futures.

Israel planned to study medicine at King’s College London, and his ABB in maths, biology and chemistry, respectively, enables him to do just that. The 18-year-old could not hide a smile while recounting how a hospital visit for an operation made him fascinated by the medical profession.

“Actually getting to see the work of doctors and other healthcare professionals, it made me more interested to do more research into medicine, which made me decide to do this as a career,” the aspiring doctor said.

The principal of the college Eddie Playfair – who prefers the pupils addressing him as “Eddie” – was a proud man. Stood in the school’s garden, outside the assembly hall where the children learn their examination fate, he said: “We’re really pleased, our results are excellent. Our A-Level pass rate is 96 percent, that’s up at two percent from last year.

“It’s really great to be still improving. There are lots of very happy students here who have got into their first choice universities. I’m delighted.”

Another delighted student was Emma Louise Francis. The 19-year-old managed a triple distinction in performing arts in her, and a C in psychology. It secured her place at De Montfort University to study psychology and educational studies.

“For my psychology exam I was really nervous, so I’m happy that I passed,” she said. Also an aspiring actress, Emma felt her studies have been worthwhile in more than an academic sense. “I love it. It’s great fun, with performing arts, the dance and the music element as well. [They] really help to bring out your confidence and to learn new skills.”

The future was also looking bright for Adrish Ahmad, who hopes to one day work for German carmaker Audi. “When I was young I had this great passion for designing,” he explained. “And my father said that if you’re into that sort of stuff then engineering is a good pathway. Plus I was good at maths and physics.”

The confident 18-year-old told of how he has enjoyed his time at Newham college, which educates 2,700 16 to 19-year-olds. Adrish spoke about the much-analysed question concerning discrepancies between girls and boys in the classroom.

“Some of the girls I’ve known have actually done pretty good, some better than the boys. However,” he said grinning, “I think the boys still win. I mean, we’re just clever like that.”

BRAINY: Sixth former Israel Kolade hopes to specialise in neurology

Rakeem Kamara was optimistic he was set to make a name for himself. He had seized his opportunity to join the University of Kent for a degree in drama and theatre. Face beaming, he said: “I’ve not done so well in the past, and now I’ve got grades that my mum will be smiling about.

“I’m looking forward to studying harder, I just need to get somewhere,” said the determined Rakeem. “I want to be able to say, ‘look, I’ve got a degree in something I love doing.’ You know, everyone is fighting for this, fighting to go to this uni position. I need it. I want to further my education, and I feel that’s the key for me in life.”

In order to meet the ambition of the school’s enthusiastic students, Playfair introduced the honours programme, which provides additional support to those who aim to get into the country’s top tertiary educational institutions. “It’s not exclusive,” the principal assured, “the programme is open to students who can prove they can make it.”

The Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition’s austerity action in education has proved challenging to Playfair’s plans. “We’ve suffered very substantial cuts,” stated the principal, who is now into his fourth year on the job.

“This year we’ve lost about three quarters of a million pounds of income in terms of government funding, because the government’s stopped funding enrichment and tutorial to the extent it did before. So that’s been very difficult.”

The college’s top teacher laments David Cameron’s approval to scrap the Labour initiated Educational Maintenance Allowance (EMA). “Our students have lost out. The new bursaries are much lower and reach fewer students than the EMA did.

“In an area like Newham, that’s taken out millions of pounds out of the economy and hit many families here, who can ill afford to lose income.”

The expense of a university education – up to £9,000 per annum – also weighed on the sixth formers’ minds. “The cost will be something I have to face, and work with after I come out of university,” said Israel stoically, not permitting the prospect of debt dampen his spirits.

The prize of a good education is paramount in Playfair’s opinion. “Our students are still very committed to their studies and education,” he said. “And the tuition fees are actually the least of their worries, because tuition fees shouldn’t put anyone off going to university.

“I’d prefer the system to be free”, the principal added. Playfair reflected on the results of what his sixth formers have worked on for the best part of two years, and thought of their futures. “Education is the best thing you can do to advance your ambitions.”

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