Wednesday 12-08-2015 - 09:35
In my first blog as NUS Vice President Further Education, I wanted to share with you my journey of how I got here from a challenging start in life, and what I hope to achieve together with FE students across the UK to defend FE and fight for a better future.
It has been just over a month since I started my term as NUS Vice President Further Education and I’m writing this after an intense few weeks of NUS training, where I have met hundreds of fantastic student activists and students’ union officers. It’s been great to hear about your journeys into FE, your ambitions, hopes and goals as activists in the student movement.
I want to give an insight into the barriers and obstacles I’ve overcome over the last couple of years as a result of accessing FE.
Growing up in a single-parent working-class family, in which drug abuse blighted my upbringing, I didn’t have the best start as some of my friends did. Having to look after my younger sibling, I was always quite mature for my age and, in hindsight, always hated injustice; whether it was standing up to the bullies or always speaking out when something did not sound right. Growing up I was very misunderstood and often was labelled as rude and disrespectful.
When I got to Year 9 I began to hate school. Looking back now maybe it was because of what was going on at home and feeling like I was the only one in my school to have a ‘dysfunctional family’. However, I carried on and made it to Year 11.
Leaving secondary school for me wasn’t exciting. Having failed my GCSEs as expected, I didn’t have the buzz of choosing a college, sixth form or subject so just followed my friends and enrolled on a business studies course at my local sixth form.
I dropped out after just three months and was what they refer to as a NEET (Not in Employment, Education or Training).
Deep in my heart I did have aspirations to have a good job, a nice house and not have to struggle for money as I saw my mum so often did. I knew I wanted to make something of myself but never had the confidence to step out of my comfort zone and confront the obstacles, challenges and stereotypes I faced just for being a Black girl from a working-class single-parent family.
Between the ages of 16 -23 I enrolled and dropped out of a number of courses ranging from legal secretary to social science, and did not understand why I could not stick to a course and complete it.
Despite my troubles in education I did have a strong work ethic and managed to get my first ever job at a GP’s surgery. I was so proud and I excelled in this job, achieving a promotion and a pay rise.
However, I left after three years when I was discriminated against and pushed out by the newly employed practice manager. I took the employers to the tribunal, represented myself and won.
This was the beginning of a eureka moment. I decided to go back to college and do a leadership and management course. I accepted the things that I couldn’t change, but tried to change the things that I could through creating my own opportunities.
It took me becoming a mother to be able to put things into perceptive and stop feeling sorry for myself and the lack of opportunities in my life until that point. I realised that I was a mother, a role model, to a living, breathing little innocent child. I had to do my upmost to ensure she would have a better start in life than I did.
Since 2011 I have completed and passed four courses (most recently completing my Diploma in Education and Training). I will be graduating later on in the year. Over the past two years, whilst studying at college, I got actively involved in my students’ union, and was elected president, became political and began to rebuild my students’ union which had been totally disengaged for almost nine years. Now I have been elected your VP FE.
It’s the pain and experiences of hardship and negativity that have brought me to where I am today, and looking back now I would not change a thing. It is this that has taken me on this phenomenal journey to have met some fantastic, amazing people who are passionate about making change and creating a fair society, like myself.
I don’t want to sit here and say it was easy and there were no barriers preventing me from achieving. There were many, so many that on many occasions I felt like giving up and just become what everyone expected of me, because it was easier to be what I knew than breaking the cycle of deprivation and becoming somebody of substance.
We cannot choose the life we are born into. There comes a time when you have to realise everyone has their own issues, whether it's a disability, caring or parenting responsibility, being in a domestic abusive relationship, having a drug and alcohol problem, lacking in self-confidence and motivation due to past experiences, or being involved in gangs. We all go through hardship but it's about the way you move forward. Your attitude will determine your success in life - you think big and you will be big.For these reasons it is important for me that we share this journey together to achieve success. We need to win on your campuses, locally and nationally. If I can inspire, empower or motivate one person then it will all be worth it.
We can smash glass ceiling because we are in charge of our own destiny.As Black students, LGBT students, mature students, disabled students and international students, we all face barriers. We have to embrace the positives, learn from them and use it as a driving focus to get us where we want to be.
My journey is just one out of millions of other FE students including yours, and for me this is what makes FE so unique, the diversity and strength amongst the students that study within it.
With the huge, devastating 24% cuts the Conservatives are introducing to Adult and Further Education, as well as the additional £900 million more to be made throughout the year, we as the student movement representing FE have a tough fight on our hands. This is not only the fight for free education, sustainable funding with well-developed, active students’ unions leading the charge. It is also about changing mind-sets by getting the government, employers and the public to recognise FE as an effective route into Higher Education or employment.
My advice to you as an FE student activist is simple: step out of the box and don't be scared to be different. Don't follow the trend but be a trend setter, be a leader not a follower, be you and not who anyone else want you to be.Be strong, be bold, stay focus, well-grounded and most of all get political, because politics is the way of life and I am positive you will see a change!
Your feedback, suggestions and views are vital in building a solid engagement structure which is student led and student centred throughout everything we do. NUS is here to support you in your educational journey and ensure you have quality teaching and learning and your voices are heard to ensure that you have the best experiences in your colleges.
"If you put yourself in a position where you have to stretch outside your comfort zone, then you are forced to expand your consciousness.”