Journalist and Writer
Hilary Wilce specialising in all aspects of education
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The Quandary - 27 Nov 2008

Now my children are older Iíd like to get a qualification, but I didnít do well at school. What are access courses?

Hillary's Advice

Iím so glad you wrote in because Iíd like to say to you and to anyone else in your position: donít EVER base your idea of who you are and what you are capable of by how you did at school. You might not have been ready to learn back then, you might have had lousy teachers, or problems at home, or other priorities like friends and relationships. You might have taken far too much notice of all those adults who liked to tell you who you were. (ďYouíre useless at maths.Ē)

We all change all the time, our brains are plastic and adaptable, our understanding of the world matures, and how good we are at learning things probably depends more on motivation and the stories we tell ourselves (ďOf course I can do maths if I take it steadily and get things explained when I donít understand them ď) than ability.

Access courses are for people like you. Google your local FE college and see what it offers. Dream a bit about what youíd really like to do. Then ring up and ask if you can come in and speak to someone about enrolling on a course. If you feel shy, take a friend. Bear in mind that college wonít be anything like school, your fellow students will probably turn out to be great allies, and there will be counselling and other services to help you through difficult patches. If that all feels too much, have a look at to see what you can do online.