Shropshire teaching assistant goes to amazing lengths to help ensure his pupils are happy making the grade

A Shropshire school teaching assistant (TA) has gone above and beyond to help some worried pupils who were concerned about exam performance by sitting a GCSE in Chemistry with them.

Rob Howell, who is a member of the Learning Support Department at Oswestry School in Upper Brook Street, Oswestry, was keen to do everything he could to encourage and support his pupils and understand what they were going through.

As well as giving them all the usual help, as a TA, Rob has undertaken a very personal project which has taken up a lot of his own time, by agreeing to sit his Chemistry GCSE alongside his students to help put them at ease.

Rob went through the whole process, revising and studying in lessons and at home in preparation to sit the exam with the rest of his ‘classmates’. He has found by experiencing and remembering the pressure of exams he will be able to help his pupils much better in the future.

When Rob, who prefers to not put a number to his age, was younger, he sat O’levels, which were replaced by GCSEs in 1988.

Rob, who lives in Weston Rhyn said: “When I first began working at Oswestry School, as a member of the Learning Support department, I found it to be exciting and challenging in equal measure. I wanted to encourage the students I support in class and in Learning Support to succeed as well as supporting them as much as possible.

“During one particular session, I was discussing revision and how necessary it was, when a pupil said: ' It's alright for you Sir, you don't know what it's like.' And I realised at that moment that I didn't could I?

“So, I made a promise I would find out what it was like and take the GCSE alongside the class! It seemed like an ideal solution, I would be able to experience just what the pupils were going through and gain greater knowledge of the subject matter at the same time.”


With support and encouragement from the teachers in the Sciences department and his colleagues in Learning Support, as well as colleagues from across the school and many students, Rob began studying GCSE Chemistry. He picked up bits and pieces over a two-year period but only hits the books in earnest in January 2022.


He wasn’t able to attend every Chemistry lesson, just one a week, so a great deal of studying was done at home from textbooks, the Internet, tips from teachers and accessing past exam papers.


Rob said: “Once the novelty factor wore off, and the students realised I was serious and intending to sit the exams, they were really supportive, and we started learning together.


“The saying 'You can't teach an old dog new tricks' rang scarily true, and on many occasions the pupils taught me, but eventually we got there...together.”


Rob sat his GCSE chemistry exam, all three papers of it in May 2022 alongside the pupils and will receive the result on 18 August when they get theirs.


He said: “Now I understand the stresses young people go through as they prepare for their exams. The trepidation, the expectation, the pressure they put on themselves.


“I have told the students if I fail to pass, I will not give up, I will re-sit the exam and do better next time. There is nothing to be ashamed of if results don't go your way first time. “


“However, should I be successful, I have already told the Fourth Form that I will do GCSE Physics with them next year. I must be a glutton for punishment!”


Oswestry School Headteacher, Peter Middleton said: “I take my hat off to Rob and it’s a really courageous thing to do and it is something out of his comfort zone and not his area of expertise.


“Regardless of outcome, it’s an eminently worthwhile and indeed admirable project and we look forward to hearing his results on exams day.”


Oswestry school, which was established in 1409 is a registered charity number 1079822.