There were double celebrations for one midlands family when Alan Hand and his daughter Siobhán got their exam results.

After a 21-year break from education, Alan returned to do the Leaving Certificate in 2014. His work was rewarded with higher level Cs in biology and history, and As and Bs in ordinary level English, Irish, maths, and art.

“I did better than expected in all my subjects, I’m really delighted,” he said at home in Abbeyleix, Co Laois.

Alan left school in 1993 to work in a shop after doing his Junior Certificate, then had council jobs in his native Dublin and in Laois, before being a full-time councillor up to 2013.

Going back to do the Leaving Certificate was something he always wanted to do and the Vocational Training Opportunities Scheme allowed him focus on his studies without having to take a part-time job.

When he started the two-year Leaving Certificate programme at Abbeyleix Further Education Centre, his daughter Siobhán was entering fifth-year at near-by Heywood Community School. They spoke yesterday after 19-year-old Siobhán logged in for her results from France, where she is working for the summer.

“She was happy with her grades, she’s interested in studying journalism, and hopefully she’ll get good news on Monday,” said Alan.

He was planning to celebrate last night with some of his six classmates at the Laois-Offaly Education and Training Board-run centre where, he said, adults at a crossroads in their lives are helped to turn things around.

“Studying for the Leaving Cert has done great things for my self-confidence too,” he said.

National Adult Learning Organisation, Aontas, said it is not surprising that high numbers are returning, like Alan has, to do the Leaving Certificate, as 21% of people aged 25 to 64 have never completed their second-level education.

“For somebody who may have been out of formal education for a long time, or had negative educational experiences in the past, it is a huge step to return to learning and participate in Leaving Certificate exams,” said Aontas chief executive Niamh O’Reilly.

Alan’s next goal is to tackle an arts degree at Maynooth University, but he hopes to get work for a year in the meantime to help fund his way through college.

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