From education to employment

Returning to Education: It is never too late to learn something new.

Three sisters have returned to education as adult learners with South Eastern Regional College (SERC) to pursue careers in nursing and midwifery. The sisters, all leading busy lives with 11 children between them, offer inspiration to anyone who wants to make a fresh start.

This week we will be launching the sister’s individual stories.

Today, we hear Kim’s story:

Kim Murdock (nee Mehaffy) is 43 years’ old and is a Midwife at the Royal Jubilee Maternity Hospital.

She said, “I had always aspired to be a midwife, but as I had left school at 16 and started a family at 19 my dream career of midwifery sat on the back burner of my life for several years.

“It was at the age of 36 I took the plunge. I had been working in an optician for several years and decided I wanted to be a midwife and if I didn’t do it now, I never would.   I started to research how to become a midwife and discovered SERC’s Access Course to University would be the ideal starting point. I had completed a couple of courses previously at SERC and had a good experience, so I just enrolled on to the Access Course.

“I think my family were a bit surprised, there I was all settled with family and a job and I was going down this road that no one knew was my dream.

“The Access course was such a welcoming and friendly environment and there was such an age range within the class that I quickly adapted and fell back into the routine of education. I made new friends on the course and our shared experiences helped us through the challenges we faced during assignments and exams. The lecturers were also part of a great support system, always making themselves assessible if anyone needed help or advice.

“After completing the two-year access course, I applied and got accepted onto the degree in midwifery at Queen’s University Belfast.

I was delighted to find there were mature students just like me. Which just goes to show that it is never too late to learn something new.

“At the age of 43,  I have graduated from Queen’s University Belfast with a First Class (Hons) Degree and am now working as a registered Midwife at the Royal Jubilee Maternity Hospital.

“It was difficult juggling everything – I do remember giving birth on a Monday and sitting a practical exam on a Thursday – but I had the support of my family to help me with the everyday practical things like picking up and dropping off my children and everyone wants you to win when you are putting in the time, effort and determination to succeed.  If you want something enough, you have to keep going.

“It’s brilliant that my sisters Sara and Kellie have followed in my footsteps.   I like to think that they have been inspired a little by me, amongst other things.   I know them and what they are capable of, so I have encouraged them every step of the way to pursue their own dreams and ambitions.”

Ellie Bradley has worked at SERC for 20 years and has been involved in Restart and Access during that time.

Ellie Bradley, Deputy Head of School, Applied Science Sport and Access to Education, at South Eastern Regional College said,

“Our programmes really start from Restart Education which is a part-time programme aimed at giving people as second stab at their education, going right back to basics for maths and English.     Students can also start at Access entry level but this will depend on what they have on entry.  

“When people come to us they are scared about maths and English, school really didn’t work for them for one reason or another, perhaps they didn’t see school as important, or had their family early….we are not hung up on what happened in the past.   Our focus is on this nice fresh start where everyone gets the opportunity to prove to themselves, their families and friends that they can succeed, whether that is getting qualifications to pursue a vocational course in further education or maybe starting a course a university.   Everyone’s journey and aspirations are different.

“The one thing that unifies the students coming to Restart or the Access programmes are that they are all scared.    Some are scared even to cross the door, scared that they won’t be able to do it or that that maybe that maths teacher from the past was right.   The first day will always be quiet but a month in, it is like a different group of people.   The excitement of ‘getting it’, especially maths, has taken over.   They are looking forward to coming into class and eager to learn something they thought they would never understand.

The learning process raises aspirations not only for the students but for their own children.   They are able to say, Yes, I know how to do that and I can show you’. They don’t have to Google the answer to help their children with schoolwork.   It is a wonderful feeling.

“By Christmas, the Restart students are thinking of moving on to an Access course, such is the impact of the progress they have made in a few months through dedicated teaching and classes tailored for an older group of students.   The Access course is a recognised entry to university for mature returners.  It covers modules ranging from humanities through to sciences and social sciences – it depends on what the student wants to pursue as a career as to which path they will take.

“For us, it is important that the education is accessible. We structure the timetable around school drop-off and pick-ups and if students need a day off to deal with some crisis at home, we can work around that, so they don’t fall behind.    We are not school, the classes are small, and they are engaging, everyone contributes.  Every day we are proving to the students that learning can be fun.  The classes bond very early on and we know that many students make life-long friend whilst making this fresh start.    

She added, “About 50% of our students enter degree courses for careers in health such nursing, midwifery, physiotherapy or as health physiologists.  A large proportion go on to develop careers in social work, criminology and teaching. A further cohort follow a science route and pursue careers in biochemistry, human biology or marine biology.     

Finally, she said, “It is a privilege to teach in this sector. We watch people who are afraid to come into the building and see this amazing change as they develop their confidence, their learning, gain new skills and change their aspirations.   Then they come back and give a talk to current students, helping us inspire others to give it a go and relaying our mantra that it’s never too late for education.”

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