My Research Journey – FE gave me hope, agency and routes


Born in Manchester, I am the first-generation of my family to go to college and university. Whilst at school, I was brought up in a council house which my mum kept as clean as a new pin for the family,


I earned a wage from the age of 13 at the local supermarket cafe on a Thursday and Friday evening, and all day Saturday. It was a step up from my paper round! I loved work and earning a wage that I’d treat my mum with.

At 16 I left behind the local comprehensive school where I’d spend most of the day staring out at the clueless sky. I couldn’t wait to be grown up, working and earning full-time. Without any qualifications I went from the school’s redbrick to the redbrick of the local factory on a Youth Training Scheme (YTS).

There, in the breeze of blind youth, I walked through the factory, and the churning of machinery. There were no more laughs with my classmates; no more promising skies to stare at, only the tapping of the calculating machines and the tapping away of time and hope.

I thought maybe I should have tried harder at school and I wouldn’t be stuck in that place. I was probably the youngest and on the lowest wage. But those years at school weren’t the right time for passing exams. The penny dropped when – no better or worse than those around me – the monotony set in and I knew I had to try another way.  A short bus ride away my journey to the local further education college was liberating and filled me with endless possibilities. I thrived at college, felt valued, and felt that I belonged.

I often still bring to mind those teachers and can’t help—even after all these years—but feel inspired and thankful. Those teachers, with their implicit and explicit drive for social justice, turned around my life by caring, by being interested in my success and the success of kids like me; education mobilised often left behind communities, gave us choices that had once been out of our world picture but were made visible and accessible.

From the college I moved onto training at the hospital for a career as a registered nurse and then a midwife. Independence has always been important to me and having a career that involved caring for others across lifespans was fulfilling and also offered me choices and routes.

Transition from midwife to teacher

My transition from midwife to teacher was mediated by a degree I did. I never imagined I’d do a degree, never thought about it really. But I had thought about travelling, a lot. At school I’d listen to songs that would take me on journeys far away and the words would wish me into across other lands.

After a year of saving whilst I worked as a midwife and sister of a nursing home, whereby I was delivering babies at one end and laying the elderly at the other, with £4,000 saved, a friend and I went round the world. On my travels I met people from all walks of life, the very wealthy who I’d called “toffs” (a derogatory term for the rich), people who meditated early in the morning waking me up with their chanting, people of all sorts who were seeking adventure.

Travelling, we escaped the fields of our past, and we were all on the same footing. For that time we shared the same hopes and aspirations, to see the beauty of the Taj Mahal in India, The Golden Palace in Bangkok, The Barrier Reef in Australia and the beauty of other lands goes on. This bound us emotionally and physically in time and spaces.

It made me realise that those people I imagined I’d have nothing in common with often had much of the same humour, enthusiasm, and quest for life as I did. We were young, and the future was there and we all wanted to grab it together. Travelling and meeting so many different people inspired me to do a degree and voluntary work in literacy. I suppose after going into the world I wanted to help others to reach their potential and question their beliefs and assumptions just as I had. I wanted to make a difference to the lives of people who had been brought up in communities like me. I still do. The friends I made travelling and the friendship I made, really gave me hope.

My role as an adult educator

Working for a number of years in further education, and then higher education, my upbringing, along with my relationships with other educators and students, has impacted on me as an adult educator. As a critical educator/researcher, I seek to develop my practice through the research and reflect a critical pedagogy, providing a curriculum which is culturally relevant, learner driven, and socially empowering. Critical education can open up spaces for a more equitable approach where a more level playing field is established for those from disadvantaged backgrounds. As educators I would argue that we need to recognise and address the historical and contemporary disparities that exist in the structural inequalities between the learners and their lives, for example, class, gender and ethnicity. We need to find critical emancipatory spaces to give them a voice and empower them, their families and communities.

The threads of research is weaved from my childhood and I am deeply committed to challenging inequality through critical and emancipatory approaches to education, widening participation, inclusion, community action and engaging in research with a strong social justice agenda.