Friends overcome difficult circumstances to graduate and take big steps towards becoming teachers

Friends Jonathan Pollard and Rachel Kitchen have recently graduated from the BA (Hons) Children, Schools & Families (Top Up) at UCLan Burnley, after returning to study and completing the Foundation Degree in Children, Young People and their Services at Burnley College.

Rachel, from Burnley, gained a first-class honours degree and won Student of the Year. Rachel is a mum to four children, aged 5 to 13, and the youngest child has a range of extra needs due to being several disabled. This has helped inspire her current career goal to work in a SEN school.

Jonathan, from Rosendale, recovered from an emergency operation months before the end of the final year. He completed the course despite a lengthy recovery which affected his ability to concentrate and keep up with other students on the course.

Jonathan and Rachel recently returned to UCLan Burnley to talk to current third year students about their experiences and pass on valuable knowledge.

The covid-19 pandemic limited a lot of the teaching to online classes and the students joined other students on the third year with the BA (Hons) Children, Schools & Families, degree, which also runs at both UCLan Burnley and Preston. Also, some modules are shared with students from other UCLan courses.

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Rachel Kitchen, Children, Schools & Families graduate
Rachel Kitchen, Children, Schools & Families graduate

When asked about their motivation for picking the course, Rachel explained, “I’d always wanted to be a teacher. I’d been a nursery nurse and had other jobs that I couldn’t see myself doing as I got older. I was ready to take the next step in my career. This course felt like the best way into teaching. I am now doing a PGCE in partnership with Pennine Lancashire SCITT [School-Centred Initial Teacher Training] and Cumbria University. It’s really full on but I really like it. By the end of July, I should have my QTS and a third of my masters.

“I am currently on placement in a SEN high school but want to work in a SEN primary school or with SEN children. The course I’ve done has given me loads of experience in primary schools which has been brilliant.”

Rachel talked about the transition from foundation degree at college to the final year at UCLan. “It was a really smooth transition. The college course really set us up well to continue at university.”

Jonathan talked about his experience of studying during the global pandemic. “I found it hard studying online because I much prefer to be in the classroom with people.”

Rachel added, “Luckily, we had spent most of the first two years together in classes and we became good friends. That really helped when we were struggling as we could help each other get through."

"I’ve had lots of employment offers since I finished. I signed up for an agency and my phone didn’t stop ringing!"

Jonathan Pollard, BA (Hons) Children, Schools & Families (Top Up) graduate

Jonathan had worked in adult mental health for nearly 12 years before returning to higher education. “I came to an open day and was impressed by all the different options available after this course. My grandma was a teacher and I have other family that are teachers now, so I thought, “why not give it a go?”

“This year I’m at college to do my Science GCSE. I’m also a site supervisor at a school where I also do some TA work, so I’m getting more experience before I start my teacher training. I want to go into primary teacher – I’d like to work with Year 3 or 4 as I’ve really enjoyed that in the past.”

One highlight was the graduation ceremony, with Jonathan claiming, “it was up there with my wedding day! I really wasn’t sure I was going to be able to complete the course, so it was a high achievement for me when I graduated.

“I was diagnosed with Cauda Equina Syndrome (CES) syndrome. I had to have two discs removed from my spine, I had compression of the nerves and I had spinal fluid leakage. I had an emergency operation within 24-hours of finding out. However, the big problem for me was after the operation, the medication made it hard for me to concentrate. I felt drowsy a lot and struggled to do my work. It took about three weeks to get off the medication but there were times when I thought about giving up. 

Rachel, Jonathan and friends outside the new Student Centre at UCLan Preston Campus
Rachel, Jonathan and friends outside the new Student Centre at UCLan Preston Campus

“I was online the day after the operation because I didn’t want to miss anything, but my lecturer went mad at me and told me to rest!“

The encouragement from other people of the course and my wife helped me through and I didn’t want to not finish after I was so close to the end. I ended up with a high 2:1 and I was really happy with that.”

Both students really took pride in their dissertation during their final year. Jonathon wrote about the transition of refugees into the UK, highlighting the challenges many refugees face in their journey from their home nation. Rachel focussed on education health and care plans in Early Years at primary schools. She noted the difficulties that policies have on families trying to secure a plan for children that desperately need it, and the different ways local councils implement their own strategies.

The advice that Rachel and Jonathan would give to anyone considering studying Children, Schools and Families would be to do it because of all the opportunities available at the end of it. Rachel highlighted the growing number of new jobs in the area and how the course gives a wide variety of options. Jonathan added, “I’ve had lots of employment offers since I finished. I signed up for an agency and my phone didn’t stop ringing!”

Find out more about studying Children, Schools and Families at UCLan at one of our upcoming events.