AN INSPIRING pensioner has successfully passed his English GCSE, 65 years after leaving school.

James O'Neil, aged 81, is celebrating after achieving a Grade 8 in the subject following his studies at Basingstoke College of Technology.

He told The Gazette he decided to go back to obtain the qualification because he wanted to improve his grammar.

"I was educated in Cork city in the Republic of Ireland. Looking back, a lot of the subjects were taught in Gaelic language that is only spoken in certain areas of the country," the grandfather said.

"I decided to brush up on some of these subjects later in life so I enrolled in this course. I found I was more receptive to learning this time round.

"When I was at school, they were very strict. Corporal punishment was rampant, you got beaten up if you didn't get it right. I remember being quite scared in that situation."

James, who lives in Winklebury, finished school at the age of 16 before training as an engineer.

He moved to London where he worked as a welder and moved to Basingstoke after getting married in the 1960s.

He retired in 1989 and went back into engineering before teaching his craft at Basingstoke college.

Inspired by his relatives who have obtained university degrees, James decided to go back and sit his English GCSE level and enrolled on an adult learning course at BCoT.

"I found it a bit embarrassing at first, re-entering college in my later years," he said. "I wanted to improve my grammar and punctuation. I am a prolific reader, I read a lot, and a I just wanted to improve."

But quickly, the grandfather said he made friends with people from all walks of life and found the subject fascinating.

"I really enjoyed meeting people and learning all about their lives. There are many different reasons why people were there. Many were trying to better themselves which is commendable."

The father-of-two said the course has taught him more than he had hoped, saying: "I realised I have quite a good knowledge of words and phrases. It's made me realise I could possible write a book. I would like to develop as much as I can."

And James said he hasn't ruled out further education and may consider university.

James' good news comes as students across Basingstoke collected their GCSEs on Thursday.

The Worting Road college saw its students achieve a 36.5 per cent pass rate for GCSE English, up 10.4 per cent on 2019. GCSE maths saw an 6.2 per cent increase, with a pass rate of 38.2 per cent.

Principal Anthony Bravo praised his students, saying: “I would like to congratulate all of our students who have achieved the grade they desired in what has been an incredibly challenging year for them, given the difficult circumstances. I would also like to acknowledge our dedicated English and maths lecturers, who have adopted the latest digital and educational technology to ensure all of our students receive a personalised learning experience, that equips our students with the skills and confidence they need to succeed.”