FE has been hugely influential in my adult life.


Gary Husband shares his story

FE has been hugely influential in my adult life.

On leaving school I didn’t consider ‘tech’ as an option, my parents had aspirations of me attending university. I went for several interviews for various degree courses and received several offers. When my A level results arrived, not only did they spell out the end (E.N.D) of my burgeoning teenage academic career but also the start of what was to be a few years of ‘living the dream’. Much to my parent’s ‘joy’…. I signed a record deal and proceeded to tour and record with a band on a full time basis. By the age of 21 the money had all but dried up and I realised I needed to actually earn a living. A dear (late) friend was good enough to get me some work in a residential centre for looked after young people who were engaged in outdoor adventure (another passion of mine) which started an indirect route for me into working in education.

After a few years of working in some pretty tough situations I needed a change and another friend offered me the opportunity to work in his garage as a trainee technician. I had never considered this before but something appealed (great grandfather, grandfather, father and brother were/are all engineers of considerable talent), so I took the plunge.

As you would expect, as a trainee mechanic, I earned very little and worked very hard but, and crucially, every Thursday I went along to Rhyl college (Coleg Llandrillo) where I was engaged in an ONC in Automotive Technology. Me, at 23 with a class of 16/17 year olds. I was more used to working with teenagers than studying with them but all in all, it was an excellent experience and I still have some friends made at this time.

Fast forward 3 years and I was doing OK, a confident technician with a good trade and now earning a good living. My story with FE could have ended there, and if it had, it would still have been a crucial and much valued part of my life, but it didn’t. I signed up for a HNC and went to the same college two evenings a week. Here I mixed with students that were a bit older (but no more mature….still mechanics!) and the teaching changed. The higher education delivery within the department was my first experience of being taught in a different way. The subject matter was still very technical but the learning more discursive and inclusive of our experiences as technicians, blended with new concepts and ideas. I became very interested in not just what was being taught but how it was being taught.

A year later, when a position as a full time lecturer in automotive engineering became available, it didn’t cross my mind to apply. It wasn’t until some of the lecturers in the department (who had become friends) suggested that I might have a chance of securing the position that it became evident that FE was about to play yet another major role in my life. I applied and (I am still not quite sure how), I got the job. Once again the story could end here but FE was about to make another huge impact on my life, I was put forward to complete a PGCE. This was perhaps the most transformative of my experiences in FE. The lecturers who delivered the PGCE ‘in house’ remain some of the most influential people in my life, I am proud to now call them friends, and my time studying with them will remain as one of my most life changing experiences.

My view of the world changed, my political and social engagement changed and I changed. I finished my PGCE with a new perspective and crucially, more questions than answers. I had developed a love of teaching, but I guess most significantly, I had discovered a love for learning. I found myself wondering what the PGCE had done to me, how the lecturers had done it and I wanted to know more.

I enquired about the top up degree at the college but was guided towards a master’s course at Bangor University. I engaged in an MA in Education and through a series of events, chance encounters and an awful lot of support from family, I emerged from Bangor university 5 years later (having transferred credit from the MA) with a Doctorate in Education.

During the time I was studying at Bangor University I had moved to Edinburgh to be with my partner (now wife) and had secured teaching work in Engineering at Jewel and Esk college. I ended up as the head of department for Automotive Engineering and then as the professional development manager for Edinburgh College. Fast forwarding a couple of years to my doctoral graduation and I had secured a position as a lecturer in professional education and leadership at the University of Stirling, where I happily work today.

FE presented me with opportunity after opportunity. I am quite confident in saying that I would not be sitting where I am now if I had gone straight to university at 18. FE was there for me as a slightly lost adult learner, the professionals that taught me and guided me were unfailingly genuinely interested, supportive and knowledgeable and the facilities were excellent. As a lecturer and manager/leader, I was blessed with superb colleagues and teams which have left a lasting a lifelong impression.

FE changed my life in a way that I could not have foreseen and that is why, through my work as an FE focused researcher, I am determined to ensure that those chances remain and are improved for everyone that needs FE now. Schools and universities do great work but they don’t meet everyone’s needs. FE plays a crucial and vital role in our society and as such it should not only be protected but enhanced, supported, invested in and praised. I will continue to work towards that goal.