A-level joy for sixth formers in Wales after ‘difficult few years’

There were lots of tears but they were largely the good, joyful, relieved ones for sixth formers at Ysgol Syr Hugh Owen, a secondary school in the town of Caernarfon, north Wales.

Despite two years of studies being disrupted by the Covid pandemic meaning precious little real-life experience of actually taking an exam, all 56 pupils achieved the results they needed for the places they aspired to.

“It’s been a bit hectic, to say the least,” said Catrin Lloyd, who opened her envelope in the school hall under a bunting of Welsh flags to find she had three A*s. It means she will be able to study English literature down the road at Bangor University. “There have been a few staffing issues, a good few missed days because of Covid but it’s worked out fine in the end.”

Osian McGuinness is off to the University of Manchester to study history and French after getting three A*s. He had checked with Ucas (the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service) on his way into school to see if he had his place. “I tried not to, but I couldn’t stop myself,” he said. “It’s been a difficult few years because of Covid, especially when we were studying online. We didn’t do GCSE exams so it was weird to take them.”

Begw Owen said she had no idea what results to expect. “Because we hadn’t done proper exams before, I came out of each one not able to get a sense of how I’d done.” She has ended up with an A* and two As and is off to study medicine in Cardiff.

Most pupils turned up as soon as the doors opened. Some arrived in groups and opened their envelopes together; others grabbed theirs and scuttled off to a corner, a few struggling to open their envelope because their hands were shaking so much.

The school, named after a pioneer of higher education in Wales born on nearby Anglesey, teaches in English and Welsh. The headteacher, Clive Thomas, said he was delighted with the results. “It’s been really difficult with staffing and pupils being unwell and the school having to close sometimes. But the pupils have persevered and have taken it seriously and have really delivered at the end of a very challenging two years.”

Thomas said more pupils than usual seemed to be going to universities in England, such as Manchester and Liverpool, rather than staying in Wales, perhaps because of the Labour-led government’s Seren Network, designed to help the brightest students reach their potential.

The minister for education and Welsh language, Jeremy Miles, praised the strength of this year’s cohort. “I’ve been talking to employers abut the experience of these learners and I’m very confident that employers will look at this group of young people as having had a uniquely challenging experience and having shown great resilience, great robustness, the ability to be self-starters, team players, all the things employers highly value.”

There has been concern that Welsh has been knocked by Covid, with lockdowns taking pupils away from places such as schools where the language is spoken. Miles said results in Welsh language were good but the number taking the exam was lower than he wanted. “We’re doing lot of work to reform Welsh language qualifications to make them more attractive,” he said.

Back in the hall at Ysgol Syr Hugh Owen, Faye Reynolds was pleased with her three As and a C and plans to take a year out travelling before studying drama. “Everyone has done amazingly,” she said. “I’m so proud of everyone.”

Poppy Jones, who is heading to Aberystwyth University to study history and politics, said it had been a scary day. “I’m glad it’s over.” She and many of her friends were off to Cube nightclub in Bangor for an A-level results “UV white T-shirt” party. “It’s going to be a good night,” she said.