Moneymore mature student aiming to be a teacher passes her GCSEs

The lockdown was a challenge for many people but Kate McGrath from Moneymore, a mature student at Northern Regional College, decided to make the most of the unexpected time at home to get additional qualifications.

Monday, 16th August 2021, 4:23 pm
Updated Monday, 16th August 2021, 4:24 pm

A mother of three teenagers, Kate, who is a History undergraduate at Ulster University, set herself the challenge of passing GCSE English, Maths and Biology – which she did with flying colours! This was in addition to coping with home schooling, her university coursework and working part-time as a caretaker in a local primary school.

Originally from Carrigart, an Irish speaking area in County Donegal, Kate explained the thinking behind her lockdown workload:

“My long-term goal is to qualify as a teacher and when I complete my degree I hope to do a PGCE (Postgraduate Certificate in Education) but I knew that if I wanted to become a teacher, I’d have to do GCSE Maths and English, as well as a Science subject. I’d planned to do my GCSE’s after graduating but lockdown was my opportunity to get ahead rather than having to wait another year.”

Kate McGrath, mature student at Northern Regional College.

Although it was certainly not in her original plan, Kate said she can see the merits of parents and children working towards the same exams together.

“When I was at school, I did everything through the medium of Irish and wasn’t familiar with the education system here. Because I was doing GCSEs myself, I had a better understanding of what was needed so we were able to support each other.”

Kate admitted that although she is now totally committed to qualifying as a teacher, this wasn’t always the case.

“I thought I wanted to be a nurse and, when the children were younger, I worked as a care assistant. I loved the work and the people I worked with but my experience as a carer made me realise that nursing wasn’t for me after all.”

An accomplished tin whistle player with Grade 8 London School of Music exams under her belt, Kate both teaches and performs music. Although the lockdowns were challenging for anyone involved in the performing arts, there were some positives. With the usual outlets for performing music no longer available and classes all online, Kate had even more time to focus on her studies.

Another upside to the lockdown is that her IT skills have come on immeasurably. Kate would be the first to admit that getting used to the virtual classroom was a steep learning curve but she took it in her stride and adapted her music lessons so she could continue online via Zoom.

As Covid restrictions ease and normality slowly returns, Kate is looking forward to performing in public again. At Ulster, she was a founder member of the Irish Traditional Music Society and before the lockdown, traditional Thursdays were a regular feature of campus life.

“I played throughout the lockdown to keep up my skills but really missed the social aspect of playing and interaction other musicians - it’s just not the same on Zoom!”

GCSE Maths and English are available at all campuses and GCSE Biology is offered at Ballymena, Coleraine and Newtownabbey. For information on all full-time and part-time courses at Northern Regional College, go to


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