After an eight year break, a University of Chester graduand* successfully returned to higher education as an undergraduate, to complete her degree part-time around work and her family.
Claire Bowles is a mother-of-two, who managed to juggle the demands of a full-time job, her academic studies and family life – and achieved an outstanding first class degree.
Claire, 37, from St Helens, Merseyside, came back to university as a mature student in September 2014, after originally completing a Foundation Degree in Early Years Practice in 2006. She was eager to top up her qualification to a BA (Hons) Childhood and Youth Professional Studies.
For eight years Claire worked as a Family Intervention Worker for St Helens Council in the People Services Department, helping to reduce levels of child neglect and improve children’s potential. She felt that the Childhood and Youth Professional Studies course was the right choice for her, as it covered many of the subjects that were already part of her job role. Claire said: “My role at that time was predominantly working with families, offering intervention to those with complex needs and working with a variety of agencies. The content of the Childhood and Youth Professional Studies course was perfect as it covered many of the subjects within my role. I just felt it was perfect to enable me to gain the qualification.”
After a long break from education, Claire was concerned about returning to studying while continuing full-time work and looking after her children. She said: “The decision to go back to study was something I had to think carefully about. I knew that I needed to do this for my own professional development and to improve my employment opportunities. I was ready for the next step.”
Despite her busy lifestyle, Claire remained dedicated to her studies, sometimes travelling for over an hour just to get to lectures. Claire’s employer also accommodated her desire to return to study and was extremely supportive. She said: “They agreed to allow me to use one afternoon a week to attend University. This meant I worked later other days to make the hours up. Without their support I would never have completed my degree. I also have amazing parents who were able to offer childcare whenever I needed it too.”
Claire quickly settled back into her studies, despite initial concerns she may not have been able to keep up with younger members of the cohort, after she realised that her experience in the workplace was extremely beneficial. She said: “I started to realise that I actually wrote academically within my role at work, using analysis and critical thinking daily. I quickly realised I was more than capable of completing my studies.”
She added: “The staff at the University are approachable, friendly and accommodating with the students. They understood how difficult working full time and studying can be and this shows in the support that they offer.”
Vicki Silver, Senior Lecturer in the Education and Child Services Department, said: “Claire has excelled at reflecting, learning and critically thinking, alongside linking theory to practice.”
While studying, Claire also succeeded in obtaining an exciting promotion to Partnership Coordinator within the People Services Department at her local Council. As Partnership Coordinator, Claire looks at developing the skills of partner agencies to coordinate support plans for families in need of low level intervention. She has been in the post for nearly a year and has started to build and deliver a variety of training days, as well as developing processes and systems. She said: “It was difficult, as I still had eight months of University to complete when I got the promotion, so I had to learn to balance the demands of a new post and the dissertation.”
Claire is now proud to have achieved a first class degree in Childhood and Youth Professional Studies. Vicki Silver added: “Claire’s dedication, commitment and focus on her studies, not to mention her high level of organisation and motivation, resulted in her achieving a first class honours degree.”
Claire is happy in her current role as Partnership Coordinator. She said: “I think the role will continue to evolve. People have asked me whether I will continue with more higher education courses and I haven’t ruled it out.”
She added: “This degree has opened many more doors for me in my area of work. It has given me the ambition, drive and confidence I needed to strive for further success.”
*‘Graduand’ is the term used to describe someone who has completed their studies, but not yet graduated. Claire Bowles is scheduled to graduate from the University of Chester this November.