Patience and positivity proved the route through the pandemic for Aberdeenshire pupils as they celebrated their results.
Students had to cope with all manner of upheaval during the last school year, but it was all worth it in the end.
With traditional end-of-year exams cancelled, qualifications were awarded using the alternative certification model.
Pupils’ coursework was graded, with smaller, in-class assessments graded by teachers before being cross-marked and verified.
At a ceremony at Portlethen Academy to mark students receiving their grades, Aberdeenshire Council’s director of education Laurence Findlay said he didn’t believe he’d have been able to cope with events of the last year in the manner of today’s youth.
How did they do it?
So what was it like trying to achieve qualifications during a pandemic?
Mackie Academy pupil Ross Greenlees, 16, gained a C in Higher History, an A in National 5 Applications with Maths, an A in National 5 Drama, as well as a pass in the Food and Drink Technologies Foundation Apprenticeship.
More than 400 pupils participated in Foundation Apprenticeships in Aberdeenshire last year – rising to 700 this coming year.
A collaboration between the local authority and Skills Development Scotland, the qualifications allow young people to gain work experience and develop key skills, alongside their traditional qualifications.
“It was very different – not being at school made it difficult,” said Ross.
“When you can’t just ask a teacher a question, or you can’t speak to someone in your class about what you’re doing, it makes the whole experience of doing work completely different.
“You’re just sat on your own, and it’s harder to motivate yourself.
“And even when we were at school, we were not really there in the same sense.
“I’ve learned that I can push myself to do things.
“It has been harder to motivate yourself to do the work, but I’ve proved to myself that I can do it.”
On his Foundation Apprenticeship, he added: “I’m looking to go into the food sector, so it was good to see what people actually do and what the workplace is like.”
Wifi problems – and a lot of patience
Portlethen Academy pupil Abbie Collett, 16, got three Highers in English, Modern Studies and Health and Food Technology.
She also did National 5 Media, and received a pass in her Foundation Apprenticeship in Children and Young People.
“Online learning was often a challenge because you had issues with wifi and things like that,” she said.
“But also when you couldn’t get into school to see your teacher or things they wanted to hand out.
“I think the teachers have been really good this year, they’ve managed to get the pupils performing to the best of their ability.
“Resilience and patience are things I’ve really learned over the past year, thinking that something’s going to happen and then it changes, and then all the restrictions.
“Patience has been the key in all this.”
She added: “I want to go into primary education after school, and that’s where I think my Foundation Apprenticeship will really help me.
“My whole life I’ve wanted to go into primary education, but I wasn’t totally sure until I did the Foundation Apprenticeship.”
‘A very uncertain year for everyone’
Zachary Dubber, 17, of Mearns Academy, achieved an A in Higher Drama, a C in Higher English, and a C in National 5 Maths.
He also passed his Foundation Apprenticeship in Social Services and Health Care, which he hopes will help him win a place at university to study social work next year.
“The year as a whole was very uncertain for everyone,” said Zachary.
“Although it was difficult, particularly staying focussed, I felt it developed my skills in terms of keeping at something a lot more than I would have in a normal year.
“I’m quite happy with my grades, although I think I would have probably done better in a normal year.
“It has had an impact, which I think over time will become a bit more positive.”
Portlethen Academy’s Skye Ewing, 16, secured Highers in English and Music, while getting her National 5 PE and passing the Foundation Apprenticeship in Hospitality.
She said: “Quite a lot of my subjects were practical, which was difficult when I couldn’t come into school. And then there were the Covid restrictions when we could come in.
“The last year has shown that you can achieve things with the little that you have, if you work to the best of your ability.”
‘Cannot underestimate challenge to pupils’
Barry Drennan, head teacher of Portlethen Academy, was full of praise for all pupils after a “year like no other.”
He said: “It’s been a unique year, and a big challenge for everyone.
“But it’s one that they’ve risen to.
“The first half of the year, pupils didn’t have all the time in class they usually would.
“Some of them were at home, learning in different ways.
“But it has worked, and the pupils have done really well, which we’re really pleased with.
“I don’t think we can underestimate the challenge pupils have had, to be honest.
“Having what they know Monday to Friday, day in day out, completely changed has been a huge thing for them.
“But they have really risen to that challenge.
“It’s been a year like no other. It’s a year they’ll never forget, in some ways.
“But each individual pupil has done really well. As a cohort I’m just really proud of all pupils and how they’ve managed this year.”