Five-Minute Marvels: Mother and Son Learning Together

Supporting Learning Secondary/Post-primary Northern Ireland
06 February 2019

Roberta wanted to support her son as he undertook his maths GCSE, which meant setting herself the same challenge. Whilst they studied together, she grew to better appreciate and understand the challenges facing GCSE students. 

Who are they?

Roberta Neely is well-known and well-respected in the Newtownabbey area of County Antrim for the work she’s done over the years to support her son’s school, Hazelwood Integrated College, and the wider community. When she told a friend she wanted to understand how her son Carl was being taught maths, and improve her own maths skills in order to support him through his GCSEs, local tutor Colin jumped at the opportunity to help.

I told Colin that I wanted to be able to support my son, as Google does not tell you everything! He said he believed in me, and wanted to help me on my path to understanding maths. So I decided, what harm can it do? I am approaching 48 years old and wanted to show my son and others that if I can try, so can they.”

What did they do?

Roberta set herself the challenge of studying for GCSE maths. At first, she joined other students at Colin’s house for a two-hour session every two weeks. She recalls preparing for the first session, It was nerve-wracking as I really didn’t know what to expect. I had a sleepless night the night before, but with the support from my son and family, I got the courage and drove to Colin’s house with my pencil and note pad. I felt a sense of excitement that I was learning again, and felt I was proving to myself I could do this.”

The group taught students from other schools in the area, as well as from her son’s college. We went through any problems we had as a group. Colin made the sessions fun and made learning a wee bit better. After each session, I was shattered, as so much was done in the two-hour class.”

Since they were both working towards their GCSE, Roberta and Carl found themselves studying together. We both enjoyed learning together, and at any opportunity we told our friends what we were doing – some were shocked and said I was brave. Being a parent and coming home from working all day was tough. I had to make time to study as I wanted to do the best I could. My family, friends, and the college were all behind me and gave me help and advice.”

How did it go?

While Roberta knew it was going to be hard fitting study around work and family life, she hadn’t anticipated all the added pressure that came with studying for exams. I have to admit, I was a nightmare to live with. I was worried and stressed out with the exam, and at this point I was ready to quit.” When she broke down in tears one day, Carl was a great support. 

He said, mum it’s not about your grades, it’s about your mental health. I am so proud of you in every way for doing this, so put the laptop down and take a break.’”

The next day she contacted Hazelwood and asked for their support. The college staff were amazing. They were so supportive of what I was doing; staff in the maths department emailed me links to online activities and video tutorials, so they could monitor and track my progress and set me further goals. For a parent to know they have so much support from their child’s school is outstanding, and this showed me that all it takes is to ask for help.” 

What’s next?

Going through this experience has helped Roberta understand the level of pressure students are under — managing their time between family and social life, extra-curricular clubs, homework, and tests, as well as how important it is for parents to get involved with all aspects of their child’s education. I now have deep respect for how my son handled his school demands in Key Stage 3. Now, as he embarks on his Key Stage 4 journey, I have a deeper understanding of how I can support him better with routines, chores, resources, and time.”

When word got around about what Roberta was doing, she was asked to speak at PTFA meetings and school events to encourage other parents to get more involved in their child’s education too. The experience and opportunities I have gained over the last year have given me a voice and a presence in my community and my son’s education.”

With thanks to Roberta Neely and the Hazelwood Integrated College.

Want to make your own marvel? Remember that as a PTA, you have a huge say in how your school supports students’ well-being and stress. 

  • Every parent wants their child to succeed, and help them manage their workload. Listen to these parent voices, and talk to the school about what support is offered. If you think more needs to be done, you have the power to change this!
  • Consider running wellbeing-focused events. These can be simple social evenings, aimed at giving students a break from study, and a safe space to reflect
  • Our Membership Support Team is always available to help. Contact them on 0300 123 5460 or by email