How studying maths with her son helped Newtownabbey mum Roberta understand the pressures of school

05 February, 2019

Key summary

Roberta Neely is well-known, and well-respected in the Newtownabbey area of County Antrim for the work she’s done over many years to support her son’s school, Hazelwood Integrated College, and the wider community. So when she told a friend she’d like to understand how her son is being taught maths and improve her own maths skills in order to support him through his GCSEs, local maths 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 as a person 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.”

Back to school

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 on a Sunday. 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.”

Roberta joined 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.”

Study buddies

Because Roberta and her son were both working towards their GCSE, they 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.”

Exam time

While Roberta knew it was going to be hard finding time to study around work and family life, what she hadn’t anticipated was 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 it was at this point I was ready to quit.” When she broke down in tears one day, her son 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 all that it takes is to ask for help.”

Skills and understanding help support learning

Going through this experience with her son has helped Roberta understand the level of pressure children are under - managing their time between family life, extra-curricular clubs, homework and tests. She now has more realistic expectations of how her son balances his time. Roberta explains “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.”

Leading the way for other parents

Studying for and sitting exams really brought home to Roberta the amount of work that students and teachers put in, and how important it is for parents to get involved with all aspects of their child’s education. And 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 opportunities and experience I have gained over the last year has given me a voice and a presence in my community and my son’s education.”

Roberta’s top tips for other parents:

  • Don’t be put off by age or experience of the past
  • Have a go at any subject you would like to learn
  • Believe in yourself “If I can do it, anyone can!”

Fact File
  • PTA name: N/A
  • School name: Hazelwood Integrated College
  • Age range: 11 - 18
  • Country: Northern Ireland
  • School type: Integrated post-primary
  • Size: N/A

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