Future teacher recognised for outstanding commitment to study

When I applied for the Access to Higher Education course in 2019, I had just moved to the area and I didn’t know anybody. Like many other students, I was a mum. I have five children and I started the course in September with some concerns. Two of my children have special needs: my then 7-year-old has a-typical autism and my then 15-year-old has ODD/ADHD. As the course began to progress, I was getting on well and was starting to figure out how to manage a decent work and life balance. However, in the November of 2019, my eldest child developed a drug addiction and his mental health declined rapidly. We tried to work through this as a family and with the help of other agencies it worked for a few weeks. As we neared January 2020, I was looking forward to starting a placement in a school as part of my course, but at home things were getting worse. My eldest child’s behaviour was getting worse, he was prone to violent outbursts and the whole family was suffering. I needed to admit to myself I couldn’t do this anymore for not only my own health but that of my families too. He went into foster care permanently and I knew it needed to be done but I was overwhelmed by guilt and sadness.


As February came and went, life was looking up. I had my conditional offers for university, and we were all adjusting to our new routine and we felt safe, until March, when the pandemic came along. My husband works as an NHS staff nurse, schools closed and I was at home trying my best to educate four children with their ages ranging from 6 to 14. Balancing everything at home whilst doing my Access to HE course was difficult at times and I was becoming exhausted, but it was a very welcome distraction from everything. I decided that I needed to speak with someone. I shared my concerns with the head of my course, Suzi, who was incredibly helpful and supportive. She listened to me and said some kind words when I needed to hear them most.


It sounds silly but the Access to HE course kept me going through the hardest parts of my life. I made friends and it was so good to talk to other adults. There were times when I cried over assignments because I was stressed, and I just didn’t seem to have enough time to finish them all. However, there were more times when I laughed in class over things that I still giggle about now when I think of them. My Access to HE course gave me the opportunity to escape from reality at home during the first half of it and it gave me confidence and my life back. I wasn’t just ‘mum’ anymore, I was ‘me’ again.


When I received a message from one of my lecturers, Clare, asking if she could nominate me for the Keith Fletcher ‘Outstanding Commitment to Study’ award, I was shocked. To me, there were so many people on the course that deserved it more. I was ‘only a mum’ and everybody gave their all. When I found out I had won the CAVA award, I was amazed because it wasn’t expected at all. To then be told a few months later I had won the national award was just astonishing. Words really cannot describe my reaction. I still believe there was someone more deserving and I was just doing what anyone would do in my shoes.


If you are currently doing or thinking about doing the Access to HE course, do it! Never think you are too old or cannot do it because of any other reason. It will possibly change your life. It is intense and you will need to work hard but it is worth it. Your self-esteem and your confidence will grow, and you will meet some fantastic people on the way. Most of all, you will get where you want to be. My words of advice would be: always try your best; never let anything take away that decision of why you are doing this; and be kind to everybody you meet because you just do not know what they are going through.


Tanya O’Connor studied the CAVA Access to HE Diploma in Education at Petroc College

Amy Hambly-Symons

Access to HE Diploma: Science

HE Progression:  BSc Dental Therapy and Hygiene Cardiff University

Using her expert skills to treat children and adults with a range of special care needs such as dental phobia, newly qualified dental therapist and hygienist, Amy Hambly-Symons is in love with her position at West Country Dental Care where she spends three days of the week. The rest of Amy’s week is spent at a practice in St Ives as a Hygienist.

It took travelling, a ski season and a variety of career paths for Amy to find the perfect career. It all changed for Amy when, following her mother’s footsteps, she fell into a career as a dental nurse. Achieving the highest score in the UK for both her nursing and radiology exams, a light-bulb moment occurred and Amy realised that this was the career path for her.  The thought of doing two years of A Levels was a daunting prospect but Amy was determined to find a way. Luckily, a chance conversation with a colleague at the dental practice introduced Amy to the idea of completing an Access to Higher Education Diploma.

Following the conversation, Amy attended a College Open Event and met with Jolene Hogan, the Programme Leader for the Access to Science Diploma. Discussing the finer details of the course, Amy was delighted to be informed that as she was over 24 she qualified for an Advanced Learner Loan, which could be ‘written off’ if she went on to complete a Higher Education course. Further more, the qualification could be gained within one academic year, which was a much shorter time scale than expected. This information sealed the deal for Amy, who said that after the Open Event she calculated that “financially I knew I would be okay because the debt really worried me”.

Starting her course in September 2014, Amy took classes in Biology, Chemistry and Maths, with a little Physics. The structure of the Access course running for three days in the week meant that she could spend three days a week still working as a dental nurse and also some part-time work on Sundays. “It was a very busy 10 months,” laughed Amy.

Although busy, the Access course was definitely the right choice for Amy, who said: “I cannot praise the Access to Science course enough, it was really confidence building but also really helped with my degree because everything that it covered was very relevant to what I did at uni. I learned referencing, presentation, writing and laboratory skills.”

Achieving Distinction grades in all her modules on the Access course, Amy went on to study the BSc Dental Therapy and Dental Hygiene at Cardiff University and graduated with a First Class Honours and won a monetary Research Prize for her final year of study on ‘The Links between Rheumatoid Arthritis and Periodontitis (gum disease)’, having previously achieved the highest grades in the UK in her dental nurse and radiology exams.in July 2018. Amy said: “I will be forever grateful to Truro College. I should have gone there in the first place really.”


Samuel Machiridza

Sam studied the Access to H.E. Youth and Social Work Diploma at Petroc College

Biography

Why did you choose to study at Petroc?  

It was convenient for me, with no travel costs and Petroc offered a pathway to the degree programme that I wanted to do.

What made you pick this particular study programme/course?

This course opened up a lot of opportunities for me as I could choose from a range of degree programmes I want to do. I chose a degree in Social Work but I could have opted for a Youth Work degree at a local university instead.

What have been the highlights ?

The highlight for me was not only gaining confidence in myself, but also achieving grades that I thought were beyond me. I’ve also met a group of lovely people – most of us have become very good friends.

What did you most enjoy about studying the course at Petroc?

Meeting like-minded people with the same goals as me and the togetherness of the group, that is, how we help and push each other to achieve our goals.

What do you plan to do when you leave college? 

I am going to do a degree in Social Work at UWE.

What’s the long-term plan? 

I intend to become a fully qualified and registered Social Worker.

Any advice for someone thinking of choosing the same course as you? 

Don’t just think about it or leave it until next year, now is the time to take the opportunity. Also when you start this course, remember that organisation and time management are very important. Don’t leave things until the last minute and, if you have any problems, don’t hesitate to speak to the tutors, who are always really helpful and supportive.

Alice Glover

Access to HE (Business) at Cambridge Regional College

Alice took her GCSE at Comberton Village College, and later tried A levels at Long Road Sixth Form. She left the course in search of employment. Since leaving school she has had part-time and full-time jobs at Tesco, Eurocamp and Newnham Bakery. Last year she made a decision to study Artisan Food Production at Nottingham Trent University at Foundation Level. In order to apply for the course, she had to have gain 64 UCAS points. She then decided to enrol on our full-time Access course starting in January and finishing in July. She was accepted and started her course on January 7th.


Debbie Drennen

Former Access to HE Diploma student 2014-15
Former Human Biosciences Foundation Degree student 2015-17
Plymouth University student 2017-18 (First Class Honours)

After successfully completing the Petroc Access course, I studied the Foundation Degree in Human Biosciences at Petroc, obtaining a Distinction. I then went on to the University of Plymouth to complete the third year and obtain a BSc in Human Biosciences, in which my final overall grade was First Class Honours.

I chose to study at Petroc because, for me, three years travelling to Plymouth would not have been possible. I have two children, both of whom were at school at the time. I also worked part-time at NDDH as a clinical support worker, so Petroc allowed me to be able to travel, study, work and support my family without too much upheaval. To be honest, if I had to do all three years at Plymouth, I honestly don’t think I would have completed the course, let alone obtain a First.

At Petroc I learnt most of the laboratory skills that I would require for the third year of my degree, these included microscopy, Gram staining, polymerase chain reaction and using gel electrophoresis. A particular favourite was inserting a gene in to E. coli and making it glow in the dark!!These skills allowed me to confidently undertake my research in the lab at university, which was microbiology based and involved identifying isolates and finding antibiotic resistance genes.

Highlights at Petroc include the friends that I made whilst there. A small cohort meant that the lecturer to student ratio allowed plenty of time for questions and support.

My next step is to try and get a post at NDDH as a trainee biomedical scientist in the microbiology department. It would require completing a few more modules to become IBMS approved and then state registered, but that is my goal. https://www.petroc.ac.uk/content/people/case-studies/higher-education/debbie-drennen-human-