Students Danni Merry with daughter Amelia Merry, cousin Jess Merry and Sarah Jelley at their desk with, back, teacher Ellie Payne (left) and head of English Abi Banks at The Oxford Academy
THEY thought the day would never come when they could open up their own GCSE results and breathe a sigh of relief.
But with the careful coaching of a teacher at The Oxford Academy, a cohort of 20 adult learners from across Oxfordshire can finally say they have made it.
Evening classes were launched September 2015 at the school in Sandy Lane West to put a group who had struggled academically in the past through their paces before sitting their English and Maths GCSE - and at the end of August, English teacher Ellie Payne phoned each one to tell them they succeeded.
Ms Payne, who is on secondment from Wheatley Park School, said: "We invited parents to meet us in September and anyone from the community was welcome. "People came along but to be fair it was word of mouth. The way the job market was changing, people were applying for jobs and suddenly finding they needed GCSEs."
Those taking part hailed from nearby Blackbird Leys, Rose Hill and Littlemore but also more far-flung parts of the county such as Rose Hill and Didcot.
Many came from poorer backgrounds or were working on zero-hours contracts, with at least three struggling with anxiety and depression.
Over the next academic year the group knuckled down to weekly sessions at the school to prepare to take the national exams along with thousands of Oxford teens.
Ms Payne said: "It was more challenging than teaching teenagers because kids are trained to get feedback. It's hard when you put your heart and soul into something and someone says 'Not good enough'. But they are a hoot; they are just fabulous and we had a lot of fun.
"A lot of them had that entrenched belief they couldn't do it. It doesn't happen without hard work but I feel honoured I got to know them so well."
When she learned she had obtained a C in English after three failed attempts in the past, 21-year-old Danni Merry burst into tears.
The Didcot resident had given birth to her daughter Amelia just four weeks before the exam and given up work early due to a pregnancy condition, SPD.
She said: "I was just so relieved. I sat it four times and, fourth time lucky, I found a teacher able to help me do it.
"It was quite stressful but brilliant. I'm actually looking at doing my maths now. I'm going to go into further education, back to college and hopefully university."
Fellow student Sarah Jelley, from Wheatley, works as a welfare officer at The Oxford Academy and was holding her breath along with students on results day.
She said: "I know what the kids have to go through now, doing the coursework and getting it sent back, and I found the exam really hard."
But the hard work paid off. After agonising through an exam on J. B. Priestley's An Inspector Calls and John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men, the 51-year-old learned she had attained an A grade in English language and a B in English literature.
She said: "It was a really good group. We all got on really well and went out to celebrate."
Courses are set to be launched again this academic year. For more information call 01865 774311.