Getting students to believe in themselves and step beyond their self-imposed boundaries is not easy, but it is one of the things that we pride ourselves on here at Ashbourne. Whether it be based on past results or just a general lack of confidence, some students will struggle to see possibilities beyond what they have already achieved.
Nicola Brownless or ‘Nikki’, never considered herself to be academic. In fact, she had absolutely no desire to study A levels once she had finished her GCSEs. But something about Ashbourne College changed her mind.
With a keen interest in drama, and having heard great things about Ashbourne’s drama department, Nikki decided to visit the college with her mother. Having previously attended an all-girls school in Hertfordshire, Nikki welcomed the cultural diversity that Ashbourne had to offer. It was a combination of the atmosphere and the specialist knowledge of drama teacher Fran Burns that eventually sold the idea of continuing her school education, and she chose to study drama, English literature and psychology.
Once enrolled, it was clear to Nikki that her expectations of the college were to be exceeded. Though she had always been a hard worker, being pushed beyond the limits she had set for herself was an adjustment. “My own standards were being erased, and the level of academic expectation made me question whether I had ever really been working to my true capacity”, she recalls.
The jump from being heavily reliant upon teachers during her GCSEs, to having to develop her own opinions was one of Nikki’s biggest challenges. With no clear ‘right or wrong’ answers when it came to some of her subject assessments, she was pushed further and further beyond her comfort zone. But Nikki eventually found her stride and embraced this new way of working.
Much to her surprise, Nikki gained a B for her first psychology mock exam. Once upon a time, she would not have thought this possible for herself, so was pleased with the grade and the progress she had made up to that point. In any other environment, Nikki may have been left to revel in the glory of that B. But not at Ashbourne. Her teacher knew that there was more in the tank, and it was just a matter of time before Nikki believed that too. In her final exams, Nikki achieved A* in English literature, A in drama and A in psychology. Nikki is adamant that had she been told that she would achieve these results back when she was deciding to study A levels, she would have laughed.
It is essential to provide students with a good foundation to build upon, whatever they go on to do. Whether they are going on to university, or straight into the workforce, we provide them with the tools to be able to take those next steps with confidence. Nikki speaks fondly of her time as a student at Ashbourne, and credits the independent learning style for now having a much better idea of how to tackle her ambitions. Though she was initially resistant when told she could do better than what she believed to be her best, Nikki is grateful for having been pushed, and cannot thank her tutors enough for the personal growth she has experienced along the way.
Success can be measured by more than exam results, and Nicola Brownless is one of the best examples of this. Getting a student to believe in themselves and want to excel beyond what they thought possible is invaluable, and something they will carry with them through life. Before Ashbourne, Nikki believed she had two career options: acting and cookery. She knew she was good at these things, and wanted to stick within those boundaries. Since achieving her outstanding grades, and coming back to do an additional A level in fine art, Nikki has discovered new paths emerging and is excited about what is to come. She has a very unique outlook when it comes to work, and is keen to try lots of different things to see where they take her. For Nikki, this is her time to experiment and learn about herself. It’s not a time to follow a specific career path and force decisions, but a time to explore ‘sub paths’ which involve art, business, poetry and everything in between.
There is much pressure on young people to have things all figured out, and to be able to articulate long-term career goals perfectly when when put on the spot. For this reason, Nikki’s attitude should be considered commendable. She’s comfortable with not knowing for sure, and ready to take on anyone who has something to say about that fact.
Aware that her post-A-level approach may not be for everyone, Nikki still has some very valuable advice for anyone thinking about studying at Ashbourne College. “Don’t take any pain that you experience as a sign that you are doing something wrong”, she advises. Students must not let the pain of mistakes derail them, as it’s all part of the process. If Nikki had given up at the first sign of disappointment, she would not have overcome her challenges and would still be living within her limits. Considering her potential, that would be an incredible shame.