Three sisters have returned to education as adult learners with 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.
Today we hear the final sister Kellie’s story.
Kellie Mehaffy (40) is the third sister to return to education and has just completed the second year of the access course at SERC. She has received offers from Queen’s to study nursing and is interested in working in cardiac or theatre nursing on completion of her degree.
Kellie said, “It was a real surprise when Kim announced she was going back to school. We were all rearing our families and busy with family life. It was certainly the furthest thing from my mind, but here I am, 40 years old and ready to start a nursing degree. I suppose both Kim and Sara gave me the push I needed for which I am thankful. It has changed my life.
“It’s funny, but last year my second child Brooke and I studied together when she was doing the first year of her GCSEs. She even mentioned studying nursing too. The best part though is that I was able to answer her questions and it helped us both to be studying together. I have four daughters and they are all very supportive of my return to study.
She added, “One of the most important parts of the access course was the time management unit. If you have a family, it’s all about jugging and prioritising. You come to realise what is important and what can wait.
“Coming back to study was a real shock to me. It has been the fastest two years of my life, but I have loved it, particularly the choices within the course. You can follow many different routes to different degrees. Some of my classmates have offers to study history and IT so it opens lots of doors.
Finally, she said, “One of the best things about going back to school is that your conversations change. When Kim, Sara, and I got together it was always hard to get a word in edgeways, but now we are talking about new things we never dreamed we would talk about – it’s a whole new level of conversation and knowledge that is blossoming out from us. We just needed to nurture it.”
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 SERC 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.”