A Letter to the Minister of State for Universities

This blog contains the letter I wrote and posted to the Minister of State for Universities on the day of my Open University degree result. I am sadly yet to receive a reply, and have since moved address but hope that my message made it – even though I am just one teeny, tiny voice.

Trigger Warning: Suicide

Dear Michelle Donelan,

I am writing regarding your recent speech on the future of Higher Education which has in many ways, deeply troubled me.

I wholeheartedly agree that university is not necessarily the best route for all and have friends who have been successful both with and without a university education. However, this statement I find raises concerns with regards to your commitment to the future of Widening Participation (WP) programmes and their funding.

I was a WP student – I received support from my local university, attended taster sessions there and even spent a week at Oxford University Medical School as part of the Sutton Trust Summer School programme. I have since gone on to work on two WP teams alongside my studies – work that not only enabled me to give back, but also supported my own studies financially.

I grew up in a low income household, my family have no GCSEs between them, and my mum cleaned the local school for a living. We had a lot of family debt which made day to day living a financial challenge. I was in paid work from the age of thirteen and university always felt like a far flung dream.

WP gave me the chance to meet students just like me, to explore subjects that I had never heard of (essentially those that weren’t school subjects), and to see all the benefits of continuing education. Without WP, I wouldn’t have met any people outside of my school or dentist/doctor’s surgery who had a graduate education.

The research work of the OECD indicates that by the age of seven, children have already limited their career aspirations. “You can’t be what you can’t see” – and this means WP is vitally important, in fact, you could argue should be extended, to ensure earlier coverage of options (see the fabulous work of Primary Futures!)

WP never seeks to erase children’s aspirations, only to raise them – if they want to be a YouTuber, a plumber or take on their family business and don’t want to go to university – we congratulate them and encourage them. WP isn’t about misleading young people; it’s about arming them with all the available choices for them to make a proper informed decision about their future – something I couldn’t have done without WP programmes.

Where alternative options do exist, they need to be viable. Apprenticeships can be problematic for disadvantaged young people. Pay for an apprenticeship needs to enable the young person to be self-supporting. Many families living with disadvantage cannot support their child to work for £3.97 per hour instead of finding full paid work beyond the age of 18, cutting their educational path short. I was lucky to take an apprenticeship with food and board covered, but the skills from it weren’t accepted outside of the company. I had considered further apprentice options to enhance my skills in childcare/youth work but could never afford to take the pay cut to work as an apprentice without food and board – it simply would not cover my rent.

You further spoke about university drop-outs:

 “If a student goes to university and then drops out after year 1 and has a year’s debt, what does that deliver for their social mobility? Nothing. In fact, it sets them back in life. It’s about them completing high quality academically rigorous courses that then lead to graduate jobs, and that’s the important measure we should be looking at”

Firstly, my back story: I received seven A*s, two A’s and a B at GCSE. I naturally went on to study for A Levels and had three offers made for Dentistry. Unfortunately, I left with AABC (plus CD at AS) with my B in Chemistry (just one mark off the A grade) and I lost my place. I eventually went to university in 2010 (after working and doing an apprenticeship) to study BSc (Hons) Biomedical Science at a Russell Group University.

Between the strain of long course hours, part time work and my personal circumstances I struggled to get on with the course. I transferred to the BSc (Hons) Chemistry programme in the hope that a more practical subject would be more engaging and help me push through, but my struggle continued.

I eventually ended up leaving when in the Easter of that second year, my friend committed suicide and the university counsellor told me that they could not provide support. Indeed, they even went as far as telling me my friend’s suicide “didn’t count” because she was not a member of my direct family.

I left university in floods of tears, I was always the A grade student, always pushing to be top of my class and I had been let down. For the following four years I told everyone that university was not for me.

In those four years I saw friends in museum education take on more exciting roles because they had a degree and I didn’t, I worked summers managing youth programmes alongside graduates who were surprised I would be unemployed when the summer drew to a close, and I watched as friends graduated or spoke fondly of their “career” while all I had was a “job”.

By this point I had joined and started training with the Royal Naval Reserve as an Officer, having passed the Admiralty Interview Board. I felt out of place and lacked confidence in training. I’d more than qualified for my place, but I was left feeling trampled by successful graduate colleagues.

I thought that I couldn’t go back to university because Student Finance England calculate funding as: Years of Course + Spare Year – Years of Previous study, leaving any potential university asking for £9000 up front because I wasn’t eligible for loans in Year 1.

Eventually, after much convincing, I looked at Nursing & Allied Health – some of the few degrees that did allow funding despite previous study and settled on BSc (Hons) Children’s Nursing. This course rapidly became a poor fit for me – I was successful and received good grades and placement feedback, but I did not enjoy my placements. I realised I was living for school placements and WP work. I knew I had made a mistake and I transferred for my final year to The Open University where I studied one module from Childhood & Youth and one module from Primary Education to leave with a BSc (Hons) Open degree. I will go on to teacher training locally through School Direct (Primary) in September.

I’m proud of my degree, and I’m proud that despite every hurdle thrown my way, I graduate this week. So, I’m a student that went to university and then dropped out after year 2 and had 2 year’s debt, what did that deliver for my social mobility? Everything. In fact, I came back fighting. It’s not about completing high quality academically rigorous courses that lead to graduate jobs, it’s about the skills, experience, confidence and aspirations that I have developed along the way. It’s about the sheer determination to get to the end and sit behind a laptop I bought for myself, telling the Universities Minister that it is most definitely about groups. We have so much we can offer, for example, by diversifying the white middle class image of teaching. If your mum cleans the school toilets you 100% can be a teacher – maybe one day even the Headteacher.

Please, I urge you, don’t forget about me, or the thousands of other young people who share my wobbly pathway to success. Instead, please look to raising our aspirations and helping us stay in university long enough to reach them.

Things I believe could help:

  • I agree, more flexible and part time routes are ideal but please do not blur the lines here. Part time often means evening classes – this is not flexible. We don’t all work 9-5 (as most critical workers will tell you).
  • Flexible courses need more financial support. I was lucky that my partner supported me this year to complete my Open University modules and cut back on work, but the reality is many are simply working double time – with no maintenance loans and no entitlement to childcare.
  • Unlike most disadvantaged students, I agree that a university education should cost. So, we probably have that in common. However, when it costs so much that repeating a year becomes unimaginable or access to loans to cover these costs is capped by previous study, you leave people who wish to change career, or who made a poor course/university choices at 18 locked out of the system, with few ways of being able to afford to pay themselves back in. Imagine if we were all held fully accountable for every decision made at 18 in this way.
  • You spoke of the 20% attainment gap between black and white students. Academic support, anonymised marking, and listening to black voices on this matter is so important – I direct you here to the work of the awe inspiring Hayley Mulenda – a student who returned to university after dropping out due to mental ill health a few years ago. She’s written a book and continues to present motivational talks about her journey.
  • Support is needed for those struggling with estrangement or leaving the care system. Extending financial support coming from universities to support summer accommodation for care leavers and funds for students experiencing unexpected hardship are vital. Estrangement is particularly forgotten by many HE providers and the work of the Stand Alone Pledge needs wider coverage.
  • Continuing with WP programmes, and expanding programmes such as Primary Futures exposing minority groups to both university and a wealth of other career choices (because “You can’t be what you can’t see”).
  • Improving student mental health services and continuing to work on expanding health transition services beyond the age of 18. For many the shift to university is a challenging time made worse by poor transition to adult health/mental health services or lack of access to these services at a time of acute change and stress. I witnessed this first-hand on my nursing course. One big indicator that a student is struggling is often a change in their engagement and attendance. I cannot understand why, when universities so often record this data, it is used to penalise rather than support the student in question. How many lives and futures could be saved if we saw this as a point of support rather than ruling someone unfit for academic success?
  • Consulting with students to explore the challenges contributing to low retention numbers rather than assuming we drop out because university was a poor choice for us. I believe there’s a lot to be learnt from consulting, particularly with non-traditional students and those who have prematurely left higher education.

University is so much more than my degree, and it will always be so much more than my pay cheque. It’s at the very least, developing the confidence to write to an MP and champion that same chance for every other little bright spark sat without central heating, eating beans on toast for the third night running, who wrongly believes only the privileged go to university.

I will always continue to raise aspirations and champion opportunities for those groups less likely to pursue higher education, because in the wise words of Teach First: “Where you come from shouldn’t affect where you’re going”.

Yours Sincerely,

Lou

Becoming a Distance Learner

In September 2019, I joined the Open University with 240 credits in the bag. Brand new to distance learning, I had to adapt quickly to my new online education with a view to finish my final 120 credits in one year.

Having successfully made it to the other side, I thought I’d write a blog with my top 10 tips to new Open University students – and particularly those who like me, are adapting to a new style of learning.

Productivity vs. Procrastination

For me, one of the hardest adaptations to Open University life was motivating myself to study and not allowing myself to get distracted. Studying at home, studying in your free time and studying online all lend themselves well to being drawn off task. I made use of an app called Forest (which is £1.99 Android/Apple) which allows you to grow virtual plants/trees for the time spent focused on studying. I grew different trees for different modules/pieces of work so I could see each week where I was investing my time.

There are plenty of other productivity apps out there with a similar outlook. You may also prefer a physical study/habit tracker in a diary/bullet journal or simply keeping a tally. However you go about this, logging your hours can be a really positive step – particularly if studying more than one module. It’s a great way of setting yourself small achievable study targets – e.g. 2 hours focused study a day, and it’s incredible how quickly it all adds up.

It’s also a great way of making sure you are not procrastinating within your studies – I’m terrible for reading until the end of time, leaving myself little time to write, edit and proof read. By keeping a log of my hours I could make sure I was giving every component enough attention and over time, developed a good idea of how many hours I needed to put in to particular tasks e.g. proof reading a 2500 word essay.

Unlocking the library

As a Student Ambassador at a brick university, I always used to fondly tell students on campus tours that the library would become a second home to them – and that is no different as an Open University student (particularly at Level 3 and beyond). If you aren’t confident in using the library, definitely seek some support from a librarian or attend a library workshop https://www.open.ac.uk/library/training-and-events (N.B The library also run workshops on referencing! Very useful!)

If you are really missing the world of quiet study spaces and physical textbooks check out the SCONUL access scheme which allows you to use local university libraries and often borrow their books https://www.open.ac.uk/library/help-and-support/what-is-the-sconul-access-scheme-and-how-do-i-join. Local libraries also serve as fantastic spaces for quiet study but you may find a nearby university library more suited to your studies. My local university runs education and childhood courses – which perfectly aligned with my own OU studies, providing me with a wealth of extra resources (and bonus – it’s now my link university for my teacher training and I’ve had a year to get familiar with their collection).

(This is obviously subject to current Covid restrictions – but stay positive and keep an eye out!)

Switch up your study space

Many OU students will recommend setting up a dedicated study area at home from which to work and you will see these beautifully presented on Facebook group photos. I too have a lovely desk space but sometimes find, particularly when writing assignments, that a little change of environment can really help. Pre-lockdown that was usually a treat out at a local cafe or library but during lockdown something as simple as shifting to the sofa and putting my feet up for a while or taking over the kitchen table (mostly to be closer to the kettle) really helped freshen up my motivation. You could even download or take your reader to the local park and enjoy some fresh air. The possibilities are endless!

SNACKS

I love a study snack – even more so with a cup of tea! Sometimes snacks can be the perfect motivation for working through that tough bit of a TMA (assignment) that you can’t seem to get past! It’s also a fantastic way to work in your 5 a day, get some much needed vitamins and stay hydrated. Study snacks can be healthy but it’s OK to enjoy a treat too! (Especially when you’re half way through 2,500 words and have hit the writing wobble where you start questioning the spelling of module key words!)

Screen time

I suffer from migraine – screen time is my nemesis and whilst you may fare better than me working at a screen all day, you may still find this section helpful in reducing or lessening the strain of your screen time.

Try to work in some study time away from the screen – maybe using your reader, creating a mind map of concepts covered in a module section or listening to a related podcast.

This is particularly helpful if like me, you have a preference for evening study. Screen time before bed isn’t the best thing for a healthy sleep cycle so choosing the hour before bed to review handwritten notes or organise my study space allowed a perfect post screen time wind down. I also downloaded a free filter called f.lux which not only offers various screen filters, it can be set to gradually alter brightness across the course of the day based on your usual schedule https://justgetflux.com/

Take breaks

Taking regular breaks is crucial to managing study effectively. As an OU student, studying can be a bit of a juggling act – with family, work, volunteering (the list goes on…) weighing in. It might seem like every minute of every day is precious, but you will work in a more focused and effective way if every now and then you allow yourself some down time away from your course materials. I really liked using the aforementioned “Forest” app because it was broken down into 25 minute slots. Every 25 minutes I would take 5 minutes to grab a drink, use the toilet, stretch, move etc., and if working through the whole day, for every 4 trees I logged I would take a longer 30 minute break to draw, crochet or fail at MarioKart.

Take a day off

Yes – here I am again, actively encouraging you not to study! I strongly feel the key to my study success and that of others is the ability to switch off completely every now and again. No-one can work at full capacity 7 days a week forever. Sometimes it is better to plan in a day off to lounge around watching movies, spending quality time with your family, friends, dog, plants etc. or just doing something, anything for yourself. You are not a machine – no matter how much you try to convince yourself that you might be!

If you plan your days off and your study breaks in with the same level of importance as the study itself you really will notice the benefit (see getting organised!)

Getting organised

I love being organised and anyone who knows me in person knows I’m a bit of a pro at it. So here’s my top tips for planning out your OU studies.

  1. Use the module planner and break it down into small manageable sessions across the time you have available – leaving a little extra to allow for catch up. Note what you will do each day in your calendar/diary and if doing two modules assign each module a colour.

2. Use only one diary or calendar! I cannot stress this enough! So many times I have come across students who have misjudged or even missed a deadline because they were operating out of different planners. Buy a bigger planner and colour code your life! I have colours for appointments/work/volunteering/modules/breaks (yes you read that correctly!) and red pen for deadlines!

3. Plan in your breaks and down time as if it’s another job! Rest is as important as work/study – burnout is real and if you reach that place, I can assure you (I had shingles – I know!) you will be biologically forced to rest. It is much less stressful in the long run if you treat self-care like it’s your second job. So give it its own colour and pencil it in your diary with as much priority as all your other tasks. You’ll win the time back!

Networking

Compared to a brick university, the Open University and online study can feel pretty isolating – but it doesn’t have to be.

Attend tutorials, engage with the forums (even if at first you feel like you’re talking into the abyss), if you are comfortable using social media – join some groups and check out the society groups/volunteering opportunities that OUSA (the Student Union) have to offer https://www.oustudents.com/.

It’s great to connect with other like minded students and to feel that you are not alone in pursuing this journey. I’m still in a WhatsApp group made up of many future teachers from my E309 module – we share educational news stories and general chat and it’s really nice to feel that somewhere out there someone else is panicking that they don’t have enough highlighters or remember anything about the Romans pre-PGCE too!

Also, remember to make time for those around you! Study can so easily drag us away from those who matter most to us – but we are social beings at the end of the day and interaction is so important to our well-being – wherever we personally find it. Twitter has been a blessing to me throughout my studies and the Open Degree online events were my inspiration for setting up this blog.

Keep your goals in mind

You will have days when you curse the fact you started, when you feel like you can’t possibly make it through the module and you might even pick up the phone and sob at Student Support for good measure (I did!).

Nobody ever said it would be easy but on the worst of days, picture yourself at the end. Picture the certificate. Picture the career/personal goal.

It took me 10 years from first enrolling at a university to get my mitts on my completed degree – I’ve quit three times already but I made it in my own time and have an exciting future ahead.

This can be your story too – one bad day, one bad mark, one assignment that made you cry does not mean the end. If you keep taking steps you can’t help but get somewhere.

Best of luck in your future studies! You’re going to be amazing!

The Wiggly Road to Success

Trigger Warning: Mentions bereavement (suicide).

12 years ago, I logged into UCAS at 08:00AM to find out I had been unsuccessful in converting my “conditional” offer for Dentistry to an “unconditional”. I was so distressed by this, I wouldn’t even go into school to collect my grades or go out to celebrate with others who had. To this day, ignoring the success of others around me remains my only regret. My B in Chemistry? Surprisingly, not a regret – that was the making of me!

If you’d asked me a week before my A Level results what my life at 30 would look like I’d have told you I’d be a dentist, with a house, a car, a husband and probably no children.

I got one thing right – I don’t have any children. Yet I’m 30, and I just graduated. I don’t have a career – I’m only just starting out. I have a car, but I can’t drive it without supervision because I’m only just learning to drive. I’m not married, I don’t want to be and I don’t have a house. 18 year old me would have been completely appalled.

My A Level result was a disappointment. I was told all along that success comes from hard work – so I gave it my all. When things didn’t work out, I dusted myself off and I tried again in a resit year and I landed up just 2 marks off an A grade; 1 mark after a remark.

I was volunteering on a summer camp in the Lake District at the time of this result and I was loving it so much that this bad news simply bounced off me. I had grown up in the heart of the Yorkshire Dales, a lifelong Scout and from my early teens, a Scout Young Leader – for once in my working life, I was thriving. I immediately asked to defer.

These summer camps were run by the YHA, and at 16 they had been a turning point for me. As a camper, I packed myself off (literally – I paid the £100 with money from my part time job) to Gradbach Mill in the Peak District (sadly no longer a YHA hostel) and attended their Musical Theatre Camp. Smile was my camp counselor – an excitable young woman who NEVER stopped smiling, who invested great enthusiasm in raising our confidence and teaching us the cup game an incredible 6 years before Pitch Perfect made it famous. I went to a big city for the first time (Birmingham), I performed my summer away and I came back dancing with bags of extra confidence.

I loved camp and I knew one thing for certain – I wanted to go back, but this time in a staff t-shirt. I successfully returned a year later as a Team Leader on a Performing Arts Camp.

University came September of that year and it was awful. I felt isolated, I made few friends, I dragged myself through most classes and missed the rest to attend my part-time job so that I could afford to be there – anxiously ignoring all the many e-mails highlighting my terrible attendance. My biochemistry tutor put my lack of engagement down to lack of interest and encouraged a shift to the chemistry department…it felt like the right move. I flew to the French Alps that summer to work a resort kids club, and came back looking for more – I took on a Scout group as full Scout Leader, joined the University Royal Naval Unit as a Cadet and joined the STEM Outreach team as an Ambassador. I hated university more by the day but my life outside of class was thriving and full of adventure and I loved it!

It was the Easter of that second year that would deliver the metaphorical kick up the backside that I needed. A close friend took their own life age just 21. I was winded. Until 21, I had drifted through my life, hanging on to university because I had to graduate (because, you know…A Levels, degree, job, marriage, kids etc.). I was due to go to Paris that summer and take up the same job as the previous summer but why carry on in the same old rolling pattern? My friend lost their life battling to pursue the well worn, do what everyone else does road, despite it being the thing that made them so desperately unhappy. I had things in my life that made me truly happy – and chemistry was so far down that list it made it past P.T.O.

I was going to do the one thing that summer that would make my life feel complete. A couple of months later I stood once again on a camp in the Peak District – this time in the Camp Manager t-shirt.

I’d go on to work in outdoor education, museum education, nurseries, as a counselor on board a cruise ship, managing youth programmes- even working for Santa himself as an Elf…hopping from one role to the next, always with my next bit of happiness in mind.

The sun hasn’t always been shining. I’ve had bad jobs/courses/days/uniforms/rented rooms/health etc. but…

I’m the girl who grew up without a passport and went on to have many backpack filled affairs with Europe.

I’ve had some of the best views from work EVER!

I’ve set whole days aside to find and create the little joys in life.

I’ve taken time out to go on adventures – from flying down crazy zip lines, to tubing cave networks, and walking endlessly!

I’ve got a whole scrapbook of awards, certificates, thank yous, feedback, gifted portraits and every memory they come with to treasure for a lifetime.

18 year old me would have been devastated to know that 30 year old me just graduated but 30 year old me would have to laugh. An A Grade in Chemistry would never have brought me happiness, because happiness isn’t in the career, the house, the car, the degree or any of that. Happiness is in our everyday – it’s in the Smarties you keep sneaking into your mouth mid Gingerbread house, it’s in firing Barbie from a cannon and getting paid for it. It’s there to find at the most unusual times – like being called out to a “monster” on camp by your group of 10 year olds, shaking in fear, only to open the outside door and find it’s two hedgehogs having an argument (when you’ve gone all your life to that point not realising that they grunt). It’s in that daft dinosaur meme five people sent you today when they immediately thought of you.

So I thought about signing off with a really cheesy line of what advice I’d have given myself at 18, who was staring through tears at A Level results, but Frozen 2 stole my line:

The next right thing would have been to celebrate with my friends regardless…and then do the next right thing (repeat).

You may feel a little lost but this road is not the only road. Those on the straight A road to university might seem like they have it good – but those who take the scenic routes and the picnic stops don’t always have it that bad. So just do the next right thing…

KE322: Young Lives, Parenting and Families

This post is a personal reflection and offers general advice on preparing for/ studying module KE322 (Young Lives, Parenting and Families) – a Level 6 (Level 3 OU) module from the Childhood & Youth/Health & Social Care/Open degree programmes at the Open University. This post is split into questions/topics so that you can read the whole blog or just the sections relevant to your needs.

I studied this module in 2019/20. The Open University is responsive to feedback and as a consequence of this, and current affairs, there may be some changes to the module/assessment methods – for the most up to date details, please use the module information page: http://www.open.ac.uk/courses/modules/ke322

Please be aware that under Open University regulations I am unable to share my work or help with yours, so whilst I am happy to answer questions, I am unable to respond to those seeking help with assignments – please instead contact your tutor.

What is KE322?

KE322 explores the social, political, and cultural factors that influence the lives of children, young people and their families in the UK today. It considers the question “Is now a good time to be young?” and explores the impact of various identity characteristics on this experience. It considers the provision of services for children including health, education and social work – identifying and evaluating the theory and policy that influences multidisciplinary practice.

Who should study KE322?

KE322 is an available module on the Childhood & Youth, Health & Social Care and other related programmes. If you are not following these pathways, you ideally need an interest in childhood, youth, parenting or families and the services that work with them.

You are not required to work with children, young people, parents or families to be successful on this module. Prior experience may support your understanding, but the multi-disciplinary nature of this module means you can learn just as much from the wide variety of student backgrounds/experiences expressed in the forum and inline discussions. For practice examples, whilst you can draw on your own experiences, you will likely find that the audio/video examples in the materials are better applied in assignments and offer ample opportunity for you to show your understanding of the module concepts

No prior module experience is required. I studied this module as part of the Open degree programme, having transferred from a Children’s Nursing degree. Whilst prior study of childhood and attachment theory may have helped me along the way, this module has plenty of new and challenging concepts even for those more versed in childhood, and the assignment format often allows you to play to your strengths and tailor your assignments to your interests (see “How will I be assessed?”). This module is Open degree friendly and many students were new to the subject and even new to the Open University. If you are concerned you may need to do some extra preparation or reading see “How can I get ahead?” below.

How will this module help me in my future career?

This module has fantastic vocational relevance for any role working with children, young people and their families. Whether you are working in child care, youth work or children’s/family services and hoping to advance your knowledge/skills or considering postgraduate training in social work or teaching this module is a fantastic step to help you advance in your work and study.

There is a key focus on the shift towards and benefits of, multidisciplinary working. It allows the opportunity to explore the common ground and differences between the professional values and roles of various practitioners.

It widely covers the theories and policies key to practice across services and their application to practice – covering safeguarding, parenting support and the “critical” early years to name a few.

It allows you to tailor your assignments towards areas that most interest you – I used my TMAs to explore the module concepts predominantly within early childhood, childhood and education, as I was applying for a Primary PGCE. This not only led me to career relevant extra reading but gave me something to talk about at my interview.

How will I be assessed?

TMA1 takes the form of an infographic and short critique of the sources included. This is very useful, as it introduces both Level 3 writing and sourcing/ making effective use of external sources. You will find as a Level 3 module you will need to engage well with the “Reading for Assignments” and probably seek your own external sources for most assignments. This is time consuming, and many students around you may voice that they are cutting corners which can be very frustrating but – you do you!

Beyond TMA1 the module becomes essay heavy. TMA2 is a shorter and less significantly weighted essay to allow you to build your critical writing skills and seek feedback from your tutor to improve in the later assignments. Use this opportunity!

TMA3 and TMA4 both offer a choice in focus – choosing between Childhood or Youth and Parenting or Families respectively. Again, some people may cut corners by focusing on one Learning Guide or have a clear idea of which one they wish to choose – but if you want to work through the materials before making a decision that’s OK too! I chose Childhood and Parenting as I felt these were most relevant to my future career and supported my personal development better – you may also have a preference that works best with your long term goals.

How can I get ahead?

Firstly, university modules are made up of credits. Credits = the amount to time/work that needs to be put into a module. Getting ahead is nice but it’s not necessary, your weeks are planned out to breakdown your workload.

If however you’re like me and any sort of rest period triggers a migraine (literally – no rest for the wicked!) – here are some ideas to get you started:

I’m already studying KE322 but I am disappointed with my grades, what can I do?

Firstly, sorry to hear that you’ve probably come across this blog at a really challenging time. Studying, especially at Level 6 (OU Level 3) can be really trying – been there, done that and it’s worth it I promise! Go and make yourself a cup of tea, grab a cheeky bit of chocolate and try these:

  • Speak to your tutor. ALWAYS speak to your tutor if you are struggling with the content of your studies. Student Support are beyond lovely, but if the issue is academic, it’s for your tutor. You won’t seem silly, you’re not bothering them, they really aren’t “just saying that” when they say everyone else has had that problem or asked that question – don’t delay it! Contact them. You will feel so much better for doing so. Don’t tell yourself/let other people tell you that you’ll be fine without the extension or that they won’t be able to help with a particular question. Please – just contact them. Sincerely, Miss Got-a-first-class-degree-by-bothering-tutors.
  • Fine tune your study skills with some extra workshops. I know – you don’t have time, but hear me out. Library workshops (https://www.open.ac.uk/library/training-and-events) and Student Hub Live events (http://studenthublive.open.ac.uk/) can help build your study skills. Yes, they’re not directly related to your module, and you won’t find them built into your module materials – it will take extra time. That time will be repaid in efficiency, improved grades or both. These are free, they’re there to support you and you really don’t have anything to lose. For a quicker fix you may even find resources in the Help Centre for a particular study issue you are facing (https://help.open.ac.uk/). I highly recommend the Student Hub Live sessions on Essay Planning and Essay Writing – both of these really supported the development of my academic writing – a skill that I will now take on to my PGCE studies – well worth the time invested!
  • Take your time with the online materials. “Barry on WhatsApp says he’s on Block 7 already and I haven’t even started TMA1!” . First things first, if Social Media is pressuring you or making you more worried about your studies don’t let it. Scroll past or disconnect if you need to. This is your journey – just because Barry is headed for his EMA in October doesn’t mean that Barry is scoring 100% on his TMAs or indeed enjoying his life. Go at your own pace! You will be limited to two extensions and can’t ordinarily take extensions on TMA4 or the EMA so do try to keep up, but don’t hurt yourself in the process. Don’t feel pressured to race ahead, and don’t worry if you fall a little behind.
  • Worry about yourself – don’t compare yourself to others!George got his result back for TMA2 early and it’s 48% lower than his grades on his previous module”. Just because critical writing has left poor George wounded – doesn’t mean you should be worried! NEVER (easier said than done I know…) compare yourself to others – your module, your journey!
  • Little and often. In all honesty I found this module quite heavy going. It was a lot of reading, coupled with quite lengthy module activities and it was only when reflecting on my progress at the end that I really began to appreciate the value of this (before then I was too exhausted!) It might feel overwhelming but I would advise you to break down the Learning Guides into smaller chunks – plan in your diary what activities you will complete each day but leave space for bad days. If you feel totally overwhelmed, try just reading generally – check the Twitter accounts I listed, check the recent articles in the Guardian or the blog on The Children’s Society, maybe listen to a podcast. If you’ve chosen this module it is likely because you really care about young lives and making a difference to children, young people and their families – sometimes a little time exploring more leisurely reads/listens, although they might not be in the official module materials can help your thinking, your understanding and therefore, ultimately, your writing. I like to think of this as a “module related break”, where I can feel productive enjoying a cake and a cup of tea with a podcast, without worrying about absorbing every nugget of information.

This final section reviews my experience of the KE322 module – its strengths, the challenges I faced and the takeaways that will follow me through to my teacher training!

Strengths

  • Looking at the bigger picture. I’m fortunate that in my time I’ve worked in childcare, youth work, child health and education, but it’s not often as a student in any of these branches that you get the chance to explore the work and value base of other practitioners. It’s wonderful to hear from a range of voices across the module and to understand other people’s perspectives.
  • Understanding the more positive aspects of the role of a social worker. I have only previously come across social workers in quite distressing circumstances and have rarely seen them shone in a positive light. This module allowed me to better understand the wider role of the social worker and the support they are able to provide to families.
  • The online materials are enjoyable. I loved working through the materials and reading provided on this module. I found some activities really interesting to complete and enjoyed some of the readings/audio/video resources. I was so enthralled I was sharing concepts with friends as I went along (to be honest I think my partner may qualify for an honorary distinction in this module).
  • It is very relevant and responsive to current affairs. I really enjoyed considering recent research and resources and the politics of the last decade. I have often found university modules can be a bit dated but the OU constantly refreshes their materials meaning your learning is the most up to date it can be.
  • It has made me more proactive. Not only do I find myself reading more widely and more often to follow up on interesting leads as a result of this module – I have also twice written to MPs! I’ve become much more vocal about what matters to me.
  • Reaffirming my positive outlook on the next generation. I’ve worked for six years on National Citizen Service and I have always been astounded by the incredible power, confidence and innovation of the younger generation. Every year just made me more sure that the best is yet to come. KE322 certainly agrees!

Challenges

  • The pain of Level 3 Critical Writing. I felt stung by this even though my grades were pleasing. Despite having come out of a few years of Children’s Nursing with a distinction and 72% (Brick Uni Distinction) in a dissertation…KE322 pushed me harder than ever. It felt like a step up even though I had previously studied at Level 6. Tough as this is – with a bit of extra commitment, and working with feedback, you can come on leaps and bounds. I feel so much better prepared for postgraduate study as a result of this module.
  • So much reading! The materials and the reading lists are extensive, even some of the readings in the module reader feel like their own volume at times. Break it down – don’t try and boss through it all in a week.
  • Balancing module and external resources. I was new to the Open University and much more used to the freedom of independent research but I achieved good grades by using independent research to supplement module materials where necessary. A good tip, with permission from your tutor is to highlight module resources in your reference list – you will then be able to clearly see if you have got the balance right (and may help your tutor with their marking!) I will do an additional blog on essay planning soon but highly recommend you attend the Student Hub Live Essay Planning session – and your KE322 tutorials.
  • Some topics were distressing. Serious case reviews, bereavements, the distressing outcome of an episode of homophobic bullying. Take care of yourself when working through the module – take regular breaks and if you need to talk, please check out the 24/7 support available from Big White Wall https://help.open.ac.uk/big-white-wall

Takeaways

  • Critical writing skills. This has definitely been the biggest jump in my academic writing and I have been genuinely pleased both with my marks and my assignments. I know this has helped my progression to postgraduate study enormously and it has given me so much more confidence in my own writing.
  • Gender equality in the classroom. TMA3 was a real life changer for me, it has changed the language I use and my values. I’m a girl who has grown up loving mud and dinosaurs – I’ve led Scouts and Cadets and encouraged an interest in the outdoors in numerous work places for all genders, but even I have fallen for common misconceptions or asked the boys to be quiet. This was a really huge reflection point for me and is something I will go onto champion in any school I find myself in.
  • The not so critical early years? During my Children’s Nursing degree we were taught the “1001 Critical Days” as if it were gospel. Imagine my surprise when we were asked to critique the focus on the early years?! Look out for this – I imagine any Early Years Practitioner/former Early Years Practitioner will be quite surprised.
  • A deeper understanding of safeguarding and best practice. This is absolutely key to anybody working with/inspiring to work with children and young people and is part of what strengthens this modules vocational relevance.
  • A deeper love for Widening Participation. As a product of Widening Participation, I have always been passionate about this but researching the persistent and often deepening inequality in the UK has made me want to shout it a little louder. As a working class girl that against all odds has made it to teacher training, I have a huge responsibility to keep raving about this, in my teaching, in my school and in my wider community.

And I’m all out of wisdom for you for today! If you are considering transfer to the OU or considering studying KE322 I am more than happy to answer questions – but please note the intro to this post!

Best of luck with your OU studies!

E309: Comparative and International Studies in Primary Education

This post is a personal reflection and offers general advice on preparing for/ studying module E309 (Comparative and International Studies in Primary Education) – a Level 6 (Level 3 Open University) module from the Education Studies (Primary)/Open degree programmes at the Open University.

I studied this module in 2019/20. The Open University is responsive to feedback and as a consequence of this, and current affairs, there may be some changes to the module/assessment methods – for the most up to date details, please use the module information page: http://www.open.ac.uk/courses/modules/e309

Please be aware that under Open University regulations I am unable to share my work or help with yours, so whilst I am happy to answer questions, I am unable to respond to those seeking help with assignments – please instead contact your tutor.

What is E309?

E309 considers international education and the social, cultural, political, philosophical and theoretical underpinnings of various education systems. It considers the influence of theory and policy on teaching practice, and introduces the concept of “comparative education”, considering the ways in which researchers can go about making international comparisons. You’ll consider various comparative research methods and studies, their strengths and limitations. You’ll make your own comparisons of education, learners and teachers around the world; considering refugee, indigenous, forest schools, multi-grade, shadow (private tutoring), EAL (English as an Additional Language), and even museum education.

Who should study E309?

E309 is a core module on the Education Studies (Primary) programme. If you are not following this pathway, you ideally need an interest in education or education policy.

Whilst the Open University advises a minimum 10 day placement in an education setting this module also considers museum and other informal education settings working with primary age children. It is not necessary for you to work in any of these settings, you can volunteer – support is provided by the Open University regarding how to approach this. Volunteering will also help support any future PGCE/teacher training course/TA job applications

No prior educational knowledge is required – I came into this module with only EYFS (Early Years Foundation Stage) and museum education experience and managed to successfully pick up most concepts with ease. If you are concerned you may need to do some extra preparation or reading see “How can I get ahead?” below.

How will this module help me in my future as a teacher?

This module asks you throughout to build on your own idea of “What is quality education?” – your answer to this will grow and change throughout the module and you will leave the module with quite a clear personal philosophy of what teaching means to you.

You’ll cover a number of educational theorists and researchers which, as I am now preparing for my PGCE, I can confirm will follow you into your teacher training.

You’ll gain an understanding of education from various international perspectives. I am quite well travelled and really enjoyed the exposure to new cultures as well as the opportunity to pursue independent research on countries that I was interested in.

The assessment for this module is quite varied and from the start you will be challenged to engage with digital skills, collaborative learning and independent research – all skills that will help you, if you decide to pursue teacher training (see “How will I be assessed?” below).

How will I be assessed?

The assessments for this module vary wildly in format. We were asked to submit a poster, an essay, a reading report, a PowerPoint presentation, a PDP (Personal Development Plan), an infographic, and a set of research interview questions. This was quite challenging as it felt as though every assignment had a new format to get the hang of. There are two ways to help yourself here: 1) Ensure you attend the digital skills session on using PowerPoint (even if you use it at work and you think you are a professional) 2) Leave PLENTY of time. I found that the visual formats, even though you don’t get many marks for visuals, took longer to put together than a traditional essay and I vastly underestimated the time this would take when putting together my TMA1 poster (and suffered a sleepless night!) The changing assignments may feel challenging but it might be worth bearing in mind that my PGCE looks VERY similar – I am having to submit an essay, a presentation and a poster. So although I may have given PowerPoint a lot of strong words over the year, this module has prepared me effectively for further study.

You will also be required to put in a significant amount of independent research. For each assessment, you choose your countries of focus from those listed for that block. The amount of focus the module materials have on the different countries varies, so again, leave plenty of time to put the leg work in and attend the library support session to ensure you can meet this challenge head on.

Some assignments have a collaborative element. Yes – we all know the challenges of university group work (we’ve seen the memes!) Please read your TMA guidance carefully, as this collaborative component often has an earlier deadline to allow this to be completed in good time for everyone to crack on with the main TMA task. That being said – life happens – do not panic if it starts raining down lemons your way! Drop a message to your group on the forum, message your tutor – if they don’t know, they can’t support you!

Equally – if there are people in your group who don’t appear to be around – don’t panic! All collaborative work has to happen on the forums (not WhatsApp!) so that the tutor is present and can both take account of your collaborative efforts and resolve any confusions. If someone totally bails on the task, it won’t impact your mark. So keep up the forum interactions and worry about your own input.

How can I get ahead?

Firstly, university modules are made up of credits. Credits = the amount to time/work that needs to be put into a module. Getting ahead is nice but it’s not necessary, your weeks are planned out to breakdown your workload and due to the collaborative component in E309, leaping ahead isn’t always possible!

If however you’re like me and any sort of rest period triggers a migraine (literally – no rest for the wicked!) – here are some ideas to get you started:

I’m already studying E309 but I am disappointed with my grades, what can I do?

Firstly, sorry to hear that you’ve probably come across this blog at a really challenging time. Studying, especially at Level 6 (OU Level 3) can be really trying – been there, done that and it’s worth it I promise! Go and make yourself a cup of tea, grab a cheeky bit of chocolate and try these:

  • Speak to your tutor. ALWAYS speak to your tutor if you are struggling with the content of your studies. Student Support are beyond lovely, but if the issue is academic, it’s for your tutor. You won’t seem silly, you’re not bothering them, they really aren’t “just saying that” when they say everyone else has had that problem or asked that question – don’t delay it! Contact them. You will feel so much better for doing so. Don’t tell yourself/let other people tell you that you’ll be fine without the extension or that they won’t be able to help with a particular question. Please – just contact them. Sincerely, Miss Got-a-first-class-degree-by-bothering-tutors.
  • Fine tune your study skills with some extra workshops. I know – you don’t have time, but hear me out. Library workshops (https://www.open.ac.uk/library/training-and-events) and Student Hub Live events (http://studenthublive.open.ac.uk/) can help build your study skills. Yes, they’re not directly related to your module, and you won’t find them built into your module materials – it will take extra time. That time will be repaid in efficiency, improved grades or both. These are free, they’re there to support you and you really don’t have anything to lose. For a quicker fix you may even find resources in the Help Centre for a particular study issue you are facing (https://help.open.ac.uk/).
  • Take your time with the online materials. “Bob on WhatsApp says he’s on Week 27 already and I haven’t even started TMA1!” First things first, if Social Media is pressuring you or making you more worried about your studies don’t let it. Scroll past or disconnect if you need to. This is your journey – just because Bob is planning his EMA in October doesn’t mean that Bob is scoring 100% on his TMAs or indeed enjoying his life. Go at your own pace! You will be limited to two extensions and can’t ordinarily take extensions on TMA4 or the EMA so do try to keep up, but don’t hurt yourself in the process. Don’t feel pressured to race ahead, and don’t worry if you fall a little behind. You do you! I had shingles between TMA1 and TMA2 and was laid up on codeine (in shorts in mid-December!) thinking I might actually burst into flames my fever was so bad. I made it to that deadline! Unfortunately, personal circumstances took the wind from my sails the other side and I had to take an extension for TMA3. It happens – but try not to let it get you down.

This final section reviews how I found E309: what I loved, what challenged me and what I’ll be treasuring going forwards on my PGCE journey…

Strengths

  • Exploring international education. I loved this! I got super keen and made myself a Padlet using a World Map and added info on the different countries throughout. I enjoyed the video and audio interviews with international educators and enjoyed the variety of educational contexts explored – so much so, I took a volunteer placement in Forest Schools.
  • Encouragement to consider your own philosophy of education. It’s really interesting to explore the purpose of education and to compare between different international contexts. This globalised view definitely shapes your own outlook and this grows and changes throughout.
  • Introduction to theorists and pedagogy. I’m going to bravely own up to the fact that I had to look up pedagogy in the dictionary in October 2019. This was my first education module and lots of the terminology, theorists and concepts were brand new to me. I’m really grateful to the Open degree programme and the Open University for the chance that I was given to develop this knowledge pre-PGCE.
  • Understanding of national/international policy. Everything from SDGs to the Rights of the Child to the Equality Act 2010 – all very useful in professional practice.
  • Opportunity to explore own interests in assignments. I loved being able to chase an interest. I was fascinated with refugee education and inclusion practices in Canada. The format of the assignments meant I was able to fine tune my independent research/reading to areas I hoped to learn more about.
  • Collaborative working. I loved the opportunity to connect with other students and share ideas. I was really apprehensive about my move to distance learning – I’m quite bubbly and wasn’t really sure how I’d cope sat behind my screen but my e-group were super and so helpful.

Challenges

  • Requires a lot of independent research. I feel like I spent a month of my life reading about Israeli education! At times independent research got frustrating – finding reliable and sufficient resources to provide critique takes time. Start early and try to broadly search/scope before you commit to a particular topic or country to ensure research is available – particularly where you are given more freedom to choose!
  • High emphasis on digital literacy. Perhaps made worse by being new to the Open University? I spent a lot of time shouting at PowerPoint, panicking about zipping files and shouting “WHY IS REFERENCING PICTURES SO HARD?!” At the end of the day, as much stress as it brought out, these skills are transferable and very useful to my future career. Totally worth the blood pressure points!
  • Collaborative working. Yes, you’re seeing double! I let myself get quite anxious that others weren’t working to schedule, which was totally not worth the blood pressure points! I also became overly anxious that I wasn’t active enough on the forums or contributing in an academic fashion – nonsense and it wasn’t worth the stress.

Takeaways

  • It is important to start reading for assignments early. At times I did not leave myself enough time to effectively proof read or work on the visuals of an assignment. Going into my PGCE I know I have to produce a research poster and I will need to start working on this early.
  • My own philosophy of education. I completed the FutureLearn course “Preparing for a PGCE” and found that I could quite confidently articulate my philosophy of education and my values on first attempt – all thanks to E309!
  • Digital skills. I was the girl before Open University who would wait for a dishwasher that wasn’t switched on. I thought this modules tech savvy assignments would end me, but here I am. These skills are oh so transferable and I definitely feel more confident about my postgraduate studies because of this.
  • PDP writing skills. I used to hate PDPs and see them as unnecessary admin (THINK OF THE TREES!) No seriously now, the E309 PDP allowed me to reflect on my own personal and academic process and create a decent actionable plan to work on my goals – and work on them I did! I’m totally embracing reflection and goal setting pre-PGCE. To see how long my enthusiasm lasts – subscribe to this blog!
  • Ability to construct a research interview. I had zero idea where to start with this but the relevant block really built me up to this and if I had to carry out this task again, I have confidence I could do so to a good standard. It’s even given me a little nudge towards possibly MA studies and beyond!

And I’m all out of wisdom for you for today! If you are considering transfer to the OU or considering studying E309 I am more than happy to answer questions – but please note the intro to this post!

Best of luck with your OU studies!

Credit Transfer to the Open University

Over the last academic year (2019/20) I have been studying full-time at the Open University after transferring 240 credits to their Open degree programme. This post is for anyone accessing/interested in accessing the Open University through a credit transfer. I am now a former student of the Open University and this blog offers both my personal insight into this process and direction to useful official sources.

If you have any questions about credit transfer please direct them to the Open University credit transfer team: http://www.open.ac.uk/study/credit-transfer/

What is Credit?

UK Higher Education modules and programmes are measured in credits. Credits are not the same as marks – they instead represent the time/workload commitment of a qualification. If you pass a module, regardless of grade, you will also achieve the relevant number of credits. They are in a sense a marker of how far you have progressed. A rough rule is that 1 Credit = 10 hours of work.

A full UK undergraduate honours degree is 360 credits in total, usually split evenly between three full time years. If you leave a degree programme early you may well have passed modules carrying credit and may even be eligible for an exit award. 120 credits successfully completed = a Certificate of Higher Education. 240 Credits = Diploma of Higher Education and sometimes 300 Credits = Ordinary Degree (NB this is not an honours degree and is not graded). Eligibility can depend on the awarding university and is often outlined in your programme handbook.

What is a Credit Transfer?

Credit transfer is the ability to move successfully completed study credits from one course to another – sometimes even transferring institution in the process.

Not all credit can be transferred! The credits you have achieved (usually, but not always – see “What can I study?”) have to align with the subject and stage that you are attempting to transfer to. For example, it is highly unlikely you would be allowed to transfer from English Literature to Physiotherapy – the content and placement experience do not align and the credits would have to be repeated. It may also be that although you successfully completed Year 1 of English Literature at one university, that the content of the modules you completed does not appropriately align with what is studied by Year 1 students at the university that you are transferring to – leaving them recommending you repeat some/all of their Year 1 credits.

Partially completed years can also become a little more complicated as, for example, if you had successfully completed 85 credits, only a maximum of 60 would be eligible for transfer at the Open University as all their modules (at present) break down to 30 or 60 credit blocks.

There is also usually a time frame in which credit can be transferred. The Open University’s courses can offer transfer from everything up to a maximum of 5-16 years old (with the exact maximum being programme dependent).

If considering credit transfer from a university after 240+ credits it is worth also bearing in mind that many universities will not transfer new students into the third and final year of a programme as their degree classification is calculated across two years of study. The Open University is an exception to this rule but still cannot accept credit accumulated from Level 6/ Year 3 study at another institution, this is because they need at least 120 credits of study with them from which to grade your degree.

What can I study?

This follows on from the previous question – it does somewhat depend on your previous study. If you wish to study for a programme at the Open University that leads to a named degree (that’s any degree apart from the Open degree) using your previous credit, it will need to be relevant to the programme you wish to follow. This means the university has to assess the content match, with you providing the syllabus of the modules you completed elsewhere. This is not something you can assume or calculate yourself and is assessed by the credit transfer team on a case by case basis – so if you are hoping to pick up where you left off on a particular programme it is essential you leave enough time and follow the evidence guidance carefully.

I previously studied Children’s Nursing, but decided that I would much rather work back in education. For me, the thought of carrying on with health related studies seemed both uninteresting and irrelevant. I wanted to study education/childhood based modules – so I opted for the Open degree. The great thing about the Open degree is that is allows much more room for transfer – meaning they were able to transfer the full 240 credits onto my degree, so I only needed to complete a further 120. Again, providing the correct evidence and meeting the deadlines are crucial, but assessment for the Open Degree is often less lengthy and less complicated.

If you are unsure which option is best for you, you can apply to have your previous study assessed against different programmes and you will additionally automatically be assessed against the Open degree programme.

What is an Open Degree?

An Open degree is a fully flexible programme of study where you choose from a range of subjects to tailor your modules to your interests, work or future goals.

Whilst this allows complete freedom to explore diverging interests, it is still worth considering where your previous study/experience lies. Having spent two years studying children’s nursing and many years working in educational roles, child care and youth work, dancing off into Level 6/Year 3 level physics having not studied it since A Level 11 years ago would make my life incredibly difficult and I would likely have received a call of discouragement. Some modules also have a vocational component – so whilst I was very interested in youth based modules – some insisted on current work in the field which I did not have.

Concerns aside, the Open degree allowed me to dabble in both the “Childhood & Youth” and “Primary Education” programmes. I looked at the Level 3 modules usually taken by Primary Education students: E309 (Comparative and International Studies in Primary Education) and EK313 (Issues in Research with Children and Young People). However, having recently completed a dissertation in child health, I felt like the latter module was rehashing my prior learning. Although I did very well in my dissertation, I didn’t think this was a worthwhile investment nor that I would enjoy it very much. So, I took E309 and opted instead for KE322 (Young Lives, Parenting and Families). Whilst not an education module, it had clear links to education and covered concepts such as safeguarding and working with parents that were very relevant to my hopeful future work.

Will I be at a disadvantage studying for an unnamed degree?

This is probably the cause of the biggest wobble when choosing a degree pathway at the Open University. Students are typically drawn in by the flexibility of the Open programme and the ability to study exactly what combination of modules they are most interested in – doing away with compulsory modules (much as I did with EK313 – see the previous question). They then draw back a little concerned that employers, future training programmes/universities or even friends/family won’t have any clue what BA or BSc (Hons) Open (Open) means?!

Well the truth is, they often don’t, but this is not always a barrier! Some careers or courses will insist on a specific degree for entry. For example, if you want to study an MSc in Chemistry – you’re probably going to need a chemistry degree or at the very least a degree with a significant % basis in chemistry. However, if you want to study a MA Social Work, they may instead ask for any honours degree of a specific grade and perhaps some relevant experience. There are many jobs/courses now that simply want an honours degree/any honours degree but if you are chasing a particular career pathway it is important to consider what they might be asking for.

For those routes that don’t specify degree subject or are looking for knowledge/experience but not qualification in a particular area, which your degree demonstrates – do remember that although your degree name may not convey this, you can write in modules or a short blurb on your CV to explain subjects covered or talk about these in any supporting statement/interview.

Many Open University students choose to go on to a career in teaching. When applying for teaching they will consider your module breakdown on the UCAS Teacher Training application – leaving you space to detail relevant modules/credits/level of study. This means for most primary providers, the nameless degree doesn’t matter. (Be aware – some primary providers do still encourage a degree in a curriculum subject or with a basis in childhood/education! Check locally!) For secondary teaching, things become more subject dependent but this still doesn’t rule out the Open degree as most providers are looking only for a minimum 50% coverage of your subject. Shortage subjects often also consider degrees with less than 50% coverage, A Level subjects or even industry experience. For example, I have very little % match for teaching any of the sciences from my degree, but I have completed an undergraduate honours degree above a 2:2, and have both Biology and Chemistry A Level at grades A and B respectively. This means that I could apply to be a Biology/Chemistry teacher – even though I don’t meet the degree requirement, through undertaking a paid Subject Knowledge Enhancement (SKE) course.

To learn more about SKE courses see: https://getintoteaching.education.gov.uk/explore-my-options/teacher-training-routes/subject-knowledge-enhancement-ske-courses

85% for a 1st? 70% for a 2:1?

Another major fear point for students transferring to the Open University from another provider is the variation in degree grading. I spent months furiously Googling this phenomenon before enrolling to no avail…so I hope this blog can help someone who is sat here having the same panic!

I left my former university with an overall 78% and a Distinction and I was VERY worried that this meant that I would likely leave the OU with a 2:1 (a 2:1 is not at all bad, it is very good, but when you’re on track for a particular grade it can be quite upsetting to think you might slip) – so first things first, I left with a 1st! That in itself should be reassuring to some.

Grade breakdown across my Open University studies was also pleasing, with only my first two assignments (one on each module) dipping below the 85% threshold. At my previous university I had dipped to a 2:1 in a couple of assignments, and the step up to Level 3 study can often be a challenge so I wasn’t too unnerved by this. After receiving good, detailed feedback from my tutors, I was able to make changes and keep myself above the threshold for the remainder of my studies. So overall my grades remained at a similar level, what differed was the marks – 88% at my former university felt largely impossible for example.

Coming in to a new subject, a new level and a new university can be very daunting and it is likely all of this might have some impact on your grades. Please try not to worry (worrying does not improve grades – sorry!) Instead look at positive actions you can take to lift or maintain your grades – see my final point “Adjusting to the Open University”.

Costs

There are many different ways to fund Open University study but probably the most common (in England) is to take out a tuition fee loan from Student Finance England. Student finance brings most students out in a groan. You are not alone!

If you are considering credit transfer you are probably well aware that Student Finance England have stringent rules around previous study and how much extra study they will pay for but I cannot stress this enough – studying at the Open University, even at full time intensity, is under the part time loans system! These are different and you may well find if you have been told you can’t have funding to return to a full-time university programme, you can in fact receive funding to return part time. Again – finance like credit transfer is assessed on a case by case basis and will differ outside of England. Check with the Open University and Student Finance England to see what support you could be eligible for.

http://www.open.ac.uk/courses/fees-and-funding

https://www.gov.uk/student-finance/parttime-students

Adjusting to The Open University

Probably one of the biggest worries when heading back to education, particularly after a break is how on Earth you will handle a new module, new course or new university?!

I felt completely overwhelmed, mostly because I wasn’t the most tech savvy person, but here’s a few things that helped:

  • Completing the Open Learn badged course “Being an OU student”: This introduced how to make the most of the general/module sites, use various help and resources and set things up. The course is quite lengthy but is worth the time investment as it makes later access easier. https://www.open.edu/openlearn/education-development/being-ou-student/content-section-overview?active-tab=description-tab
  • Completing related Open Learn courses: Many modules have related free short courses that give a good introduction to concepts within your chosen module. You may also like to complete these for other related modules too – especially if you’re jumping in at Level 3 and would like to glance over what was covered on similar Level 2 modules. (KE322: https://www.open.edu/openlearn/education-development/young-lives-now-good-time-be-young/content-section-0?intro=1 E309: https://www.open.edu/openlearn/education-development/global-perspectives-on-primary-education/content-section-0?active-tab=description-tab and KE206: https://www.open.edu/openlearn/health-sports-psychology/supporting-children-and-young-peoples-wellbeing/content-section-0)
  • Accessing library workshops/local university libraries: If you have transferred from elsewhere, the lack of a physical library (if you don’t live local to Milton Keynes) may seem a bit disconcerting but there are two ways around this. Be sure to attend library workshops – these can help make sure you get the best out of online library resources. This is particularly important for Level 3 or postgraduate students. You can also apply for SCONUL access which may allow you to have access to/even borrow physical books from your local university library. I found this incredibly useful, not only to have access to a local quiet study space but also for access to books. My local uni has a thriving education department leaving me with a fantastic array of extra resources. For information on SCONUL access see: https://www.open.ac.uk/library/help-and-support/what-is-the-sconul-access-scheme-and-how-do-i-join
  • Having the Open University Reference Guide to hand: Some people print the PDF of this but it is a hefty document and the web version is quite accessible. I liked to have the reference guide open on my phone/tablet next to my laptop so that I could check my references carefully (Easy marks!) Referencing may well be different between modules and from your previous university so be careful to observe module specific guidance around this and follow the Open University published guide https://www.open.ac.uk/library/help-and-support/referencing-and-plagiarism (Available here as a PDF or as a website via Open University login).
  • Making the most of Student Hub Live: I cannot rave about how fantastic and helpful Student Hub Live is – especially as a student new to the Open University. They run non-subject specific tutorials around study skills – note taking, essay planning, essay writing (but not referencing – for referencing you need library workshops!) These events have to be booked in advance and are extra time but honing your study skills is a worthy investment! (Pro tip: Follow Student Hub Live on the Eventbrite app and you’ll be the first to hear about their events – making sure you don’t miss out on booking – though do remember to cancel if you can’t attend to free up your space for other students!) http://studenthublive.open.ac.uk/
  • Making savvy use of Social Media. Social Media at the Open University has very mixed reviews but used well, Facebook groups, WhatsApp, Twitter etc. can all have a positive contribution to your study. Be aware of social media policy and have respect for your fellow students, also be sure to look after yourself – if a network is not helping you or causing a distraction/ negative vibes – log off and try elsewhere.
  • Your Tutor does not bite (and even if they did they probably live too far away!) Tutors at the Open University aren’t like any university tutors I’ve known before – they’re so down to earth! They’re helpful, give detailed feedback and want to support you to success. Please do not be afraid to ask them questions – they can’t always answer as there’s a limit to the guidance they can give with assignments, but you don’t know until you ask. You are not bothering them – supporting students is their job and they love it! Also, NEVER be afraid to ask for an extension. There is a limit to how many extensions you can have per module so it is in your favour to try and stay on top of things but if you’re ill or having some kind of personal crisis and the thought “should I ask for an extension?” crosses your mind – the answer is yes! They can always say no (but with a genuine reason, unlikely) and you don’t have to use it even if it is granted. Don’t make life harder for yourself!
  • Other students don’t bite either! Use the forums, engage in discussions and attend tutorials where possible. The more you engage, the more you will learn. As a credit transfer I learnt a great deal from more experienced students, many of whom were very happy to point me in the right direction or clarify any confusions. Distance learning can feel lonely at times and all these interactions not only support you academically they can also support your own well-being.

DISCLAIMER: I am merely a #PrOUd Open University graduate, sharing my journey and experiences/learning I have picked up along the way. I’m not paid by the Open University and I by no means have all the answers. I am more than happy to respond to blog questions/comments but advise anything more than asking for my personal opinions is directed towards the university themselves. They are super friendly/helpful and are the experts in helping you transfer and get back on track.

Best of luck with your future studies!

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