Andrew Macintyre's success in a mainstream school was driven by determination
Andrew Macintyre decided when he was 11 that he wanted to attend mainstream school. "I was supposed to go to a special school because of my disability, but I decided it wasn't for me. If I'd gone there I would never have got the qualifications I did," he says.
As Andrew talks about his education, it becomes clear that the determination and strength of character that made the boy with Down syndrome take such a big decision is enhanced nowadays, in the young man, by a maturity beyond his 17 years.
Andrew is delighted, he says, that his achievements have been recognised by an SQA candidate of the year award. "It was the school that put me forward for it. I liked St Brendan's. The staff were very good and I had good friends there. It was hard work, but I got a great education."
Richard McLennan, deputy headteacher at St Brendan's High in Linwood, Renfrewshire, says Andrew was an exemplary student. "He showed great determination and worked enormously hard. He was a mature and respected member of the class and a positive influence on his peers, who learned to see the person, not the disability."
Andrew gained three Standard grades, in English, geography and social and vocational skills, as well as certification in work experience, information technology and using maths in everyday situations.
English suited him particularly well, says Mr McLennan. "He could draw upon his interests and experience, for example in gymnastics, for personal writing and talk. He developed the skills to report information and express his feelings."
Social and vocational skills gave Andrew the opportunity to gain a first aid certificate, while work experience as a coaching assistant at a local leisure centre reinforced his career ambition: to become a sports coach for children with special needs.
Three days a week for the past five years Andrew has attended Bellahouston Sports Centre, where he is an enthusiastic member of the gymnastics squad.
"It was always a dream for me, doing gymnastics. We are the only disabilities squad at the club and we are growing all the time. We compete on the floor, pommels, high bar, vault, rings and parallel bars."
Andrew successfully made the transition from school to James Watt College in Greenock, the biggest further education college in Scotland, at the beginning of this session. "So far, it is easier than school, where we had to do a lot more homework. I'm taking a Preparing for Work course this year, but I want to study sports coaching eventually, as well as working at it."
Andrew's parents have always been keen that he make the most of his potential, but when he decided to go to mainstream secondary school, they were hesitant at first, says his mother, Fiona.
"We couldn't really see it and felt we knew better. But Andrew is so determined.
"In the end, after talking to the staff at St Brendan's, which is a fairly small school with good pastoral care, we decided to support him in his decision.
"Four years on, he has learned and achieved so much. So many positive things happened for him, even before his qualifications. In following the timetable and getting from one class to another, he became much better organised."
Mrs Macintyre believes that opportunities for children with additional needs to gain qualifications will increase as schools and teachers acquire experience with inclusion approaches.
"In a way, he was a bit ahead of his time. He was the first pupil at St Brendan's with Down syndrome."
It is difficult for any parent to get the balance right between protecting a child and allowing him to make the decisions and take the chances that let him grow and mature, says Mrs Macintyre.
"It is a bit of a knife edge. We want Andrew to fulfil his potential and achieve his ambitions, but the last thing we'd ever want is for him to believe that he had to do well for us to love him."