This has been such a difficult post to write. This is an edited version of a long journey which took me from this….

Full of expectation on my first day of school. From the beginning I struggled; there was always something more interesting going on outside the window or at the back or in my head. “Gemma is easily distracted” read the reports.
Fast forward 10 years and my over riding feeling about the last two years of school was one of being ‘abandoned’, I was in the lower band. The middle band were being groomed for 6th Form and for the upper it was all about the obvious route to University. Did I get a different experience from my friends in the upper group? The physics teacher made it clear he wasn’t going to learn our names ‘you people’ he called us. I know he learnt the name of every girl in the upper set (I have loads of similar experiences, this is just the one I’m sharing). It quickly become clear they had a future and most of them would be going to University. University wasn’t for people like me, apparently.

I left school just before my 16th birthday with girls who couldn’t read, I’d never read a book the whole way through. In a rare moment of clarity my mother ‘pushed’ me into College, somehow I got in and ‘did’ O’levels including English Literature. I hated all the books (still don’t do ‘Brontes’) but came away with an A (I think the ‘critical’ discussion helped) and the achievement of finishing a book.

Still resisted reading books but I devoured magazines; Bought on the day of publication read them from cover to cover. Company magazine did a feature, I can’t remember the exact title something like ‘50 books to read before you were 30’. 30 seemed ‘old’ so frankly I read it as; ‘books to read before you’re dead’. Company said do it; I did it. Dickens, Evelyn Waugh, Orwell, Graham Greene etc. All read on the train while commuting to various dead end jobs or while on various adventures abroad.
I met some ‘actual’ University students and surprisingly they were not some sort of ‘elite’ super breed as I’d been led to believe (nice, but very drunk and untidy) and a seed was planted. The significant issue was a lack of confidence; I attended an open event at a University and felt physically sick such was my feeling of being out of place.

The long story short, and the significant ‘thing’ for me was volunteering on various community projects, it opened my eyes to another side of life, other peoples lives but also my life and what I was capable of.

I enrolled on a Diploma course and thrived. Took the next step and applied for University. At 30 years old (well read and not dead) I graduated BA Hons 2:1.

I did it my way

Has a degree been useful in my professional life? That’s debatable, certainly by current line manager and equivalent colleague don’t have a degree. Personally, it was a wonderful experience I was exposed to information and learning I probably never would have found on my own and Graduating was a fine moment (stick that in your pipe and choke on it Mr Physics teacher – and yes, I still remember your name).

My hope is that my son will have a better experience of the education system and find his path with confidence.


  1. Tara

    What an absolutely brilliant story. Thank you so much for sharing this. I’m betting it’s a very very common theme. And you look so ruddy proud in that second photo!
    Also I HAVE to say, I really love your hats!

  2. Honest Mum

    A very moving post. Teachers and their attitudes (I have taught so do hope it’s changed) are so critical in inspiring academia. I have similar experiences and was in bottom sets at an awful all girls school, made to feel inadequate yet I ultimately excelled. Teachers need to nurture as much as inform. Well done on everything you have achieved amazing lady x

  3. Michelle Twin Mum

    Great post Gemma. Some people should not be teahcers. I had a teacher, Mrs Muckle when I was about 8 years old who told me I would never make anything of myself. When I passed my masters with distinction and the highest marks in the year I wanted to hunt her down and through it in her face (age 33, I am so mature!)

    Love the posh first day at school pic.

    Mich x

  4. tiddlyompompom

    GO YOU!!
    I am so pleased you realised that you could do anything if you wanted to. I completely agree with Trish – I wanted to whoop when I finished reading. You rock lady 🙂

  5. mummydichotomy

    Such a fantastic achievement. Well done you. Also can’t help but think that ultimately you probably got more out of doing your degree than many students straight out of school do.

  6. Lesley Bown

    Its awful how the stereotyping of teachers can have such a massive impact upon children, well done on getting a degree. I did my degree later on in life and felt so proud of myself as I’d been told by my teachers I wasn’t clever enough to do A levels. Great post as always.

  7. Him Up North

    It’s said we always regret the things we didn’t do rather than the things we did do. I was the top-setter who was expected to go to uni, but I resisted that, chucked in my A levels and got a job.

    #Regrets, I’ve had a few, but then again, too few to mention…#

    Great story. Great pictures. 🙂

  8. midlifesinglemum

    Good for you! My Headmistress (Mrs Wiltshire – that feels good), mindful of her success rates, told my parents that, and I quote: I know one doesn’t usually say don’t try, but I think in this case it would be better not to take A levels rather than take them and fail. I took them, and a B.Ed, and an M.A. I now teach at a Teacher Training College and write educational books and software.
    This helps so thanks for the oppertunity to vent, but yes, I am still carrying this around after 30 years.

  9. Icklebabe_com

    This story brought up so many memories of my own schooling. I had very similar experiences. I actually still feel a bit sick when I think of that time, teachers do have an amazing responsibility of getting it right, so so often though they get it wrong. I never made it to uni, I had a boyfreind for several years that did, and I visited him every weekend. I was just never brave enough to do more than look from afar;) well done you! Xxx

  10. Boat-Wife

    “Gemma is easily distracted”. My school reports said “Peggy is a bit of a daydreamer”. This actually proved an important factor in being good at self-hypnosis, and I’m now a hypnotherapist 🙂 Well done Gemma. Heart-felt post. Love your blog.

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