Claire Dawson – our Creative Writing contest winner!
My life as a distance learning student…
Probably the most enjoyable moment for me when starting my distance A Levels with Oxford College was purchasing two fresh, unspoilt notepads and a packet of blue biros from my local stationery store. The notepad pages were blank, pure white and ready to be filled with knowledge and understanding gleaned from my chosen subjects. I was excited in anticipation of everything I was about to learn. I was keen to finally finish my A level education, a full 15 years after I first started it.
My experience of college at the age of 16 was not what their glossy prospectus would have you believe. I left school, where the rigidity of discipline and regime were stamped on my very soul, with a promising set of GCSEs. And yet, only a year later, I found myself struggling to fit in, within a college where most of my school friends had dispersed and made new connections, and the ethos was very much “It’s up to you to motivate yourself to attend”. The walk between campuses was long and arduous and on more occasions than I should have, I chose to jump on a bus half way between them and explore a new and interesting area in my locality. Of course by the end of my first year, I had fallen drastically behind and although I had a desire to stay on and pull things back, I was met by reluctance from my tutor, who in no uncertain terms told me I simply had too much work to do. I was dejected and left college feeling bitter. When a few months later my AS level results revealed I had not fallen as far behind as she would have me believe, I was too stubborn to return; I had decided to forge my own path instead.
That is how at the age of 31, having worked my way up within a well known high street financial institution, I found myself in a middle management position with bags of experience but minimal formal qualifications to my name. Deep down I still had a desire to prove, on paper, that I was academically minded and capable of achieving those solid A level results. I had recently begun a second period of maternity leave and decided that this break from work was the ideal opportunity to study A Levels from home and finally achieve my qualifications.
I signed up for two fast-track A Levels in Business Studies and Accountancy, with the idea that once my eldest daughter started school, I would be able to fit in my studies whilst my younger baby napped. My husband offered his support; he would do as much as he could around the house and would take the girls out at the weekend if he needed to, so that I could fit in some studying. I calculated how many pages of each course I would need to complete each week and set myself targets. I got organised early and booked in my exams with a local examination centre and then I was ready to start.
Studying has proven really enjoyable for me. I am achieving exactly what I set out to and still get pleasure from learning something new, or finally cracking a subject that has taken a while to sink in. What is a typical day like? Some days are just as I had imagined, my youngest daughter falls asleep on the way back from the school run and naps for a couple of hours while I sit and study in front of my laptop. Every now and again, I’ll spend so long doing odd jobs around the house that when I finally sit down, my daughter will wake up and my opportunity has been lost. On other days, I have a million things to do, Christmas plays, birthday parties, dentist appointments, you get the idea. On those days, I am lucky if I can fit my studying in once the children are in bed. Some days, I just have to admit defeat and try to make the time up at the weekend.
Completing assignments can be interesting! It normally takes me a few days to find that ideal opportunity where I will have a couple of uninterrupted hours to work ‘under exam conditions’ and I have still been known to finish the last question or 2 with my 7 month old on my lap. Once my assignments are completed, typed up and submitted, I always feel on a bit of a high, like I have really achieved something and am making good progress towards my goals.
So now, I find myself with a month to go until my first set of exams. I am a little daunted by the prospect of finishing my last 20 pages on each course and then fitting in revision time, all while planning a magical family Christmas and preparing to return to work in the new year. Am I nervous? A little, but deep down I have a sense of feeling grounded and calm. I am approaching these exams, not coerced, ticking along aimlessly as my teenage self was, but as a more grown-up and purposeful version of myself. I know that when I am writing, it will be from the heart and the information absorbed willingly from my courses this time around will be enriched by the many personal experiences I have had along the way. My 16 year-old self would never have believed me, but I am actually looking forward to sitting these exams and I can’t wait to add these A levels to my CV.