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Gemma Thompson

Level 5 Children and Young People

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Gemma Thompson

Gemma studies Children and Young People at Newcastle College University Centre. She Stepped Up to a degree after studying at Newcastle College. Find out what she has to say about her time learning with us.

Could you tell us a bit about yourself, your background, etc.?

I’m a mother of two; I had my first when I was quite young. As a result, my original plans were put on hold for a little bit, but I’ve enrolled at Newcastle College University Centre to try and get the qualifications I need to enter my dream job in primary school learning. I started at Level 3, then Stepped Up to a degree course just before the COVID lockdown came in, so I’m very glad to be able to learn in person again!

Why did you choose to Step Up to a degree at Newcastle College University Centre?

I’ve always wanted to better myself, to make my family and my children proud, and to create new opportunities for my career by going to college and university. Ironically, when I was at college when I was younger, I had wanted to go straight into the workplace once I graduated. However, having kids quite early made me readjust my plans a bit, so I had to put my career aspirations on the back burner until recently. When I decided that I wanted to go into teaching, I looked around and realised that Newcastle College University Centre offered not only the best facilities and teaching but also the best network of local and national education and care providers that could open up so many different avenues in my career.

What was it about this course that made you want to progress onto a degree at Newcastle College University Centre?

Our tutor spoke quite a lot about it when we were at Level 3 and she successfully convinced most of us that continuing our Childcare studies to degree level was the right choice for our career progression. The course content is relevant to a broad range of roles within the childcare industry and there was enough flexibility for me to tailor my studies to my ideal job as a teaching assistant. Newcastle College University Centre offers a supportive environment and the competitive professional edge I need.

What benefits do you think there are in choosing to stay on to study at Newcastle College University Centre?

Since I had started at Level 3, I knew that I was already a part of the Newcastle College family. I knew all of the lecturers and staff already. I also knew that I respond well to the way they taught, which made that transition from college work to university work a bit smoother. It also meant that I knew where everything was on campus and exactly how good all of the facilities were for childcare teaching. The teaching staff on my degree course, as well as the HE Team and Student Services, have all been so supportive of me while I learnt, which was another major reason why I decided to Step Up to a degree at the University Centre.

What are the facilities like at the University Centre for your course and as a student?

I’m a part-time student and my classes are primarily based at night because of my placement schedule, so I don’t get to see too many of the on-campus facilities while they’re in use by everyone. Obviously, you’ve got the computer rooms and IT suites on Parsons tenth floor, which has been a big help for me when I’ve had work that I needed to focus on for my degree. I also like how Parsons tenth floor is a degree students-only zone, which makes it feel like a much more personal learning experience for me since there’s a fairly private place I can either use to study or to relax. There’s also the HE Hub, which is a great place to do the same, just with food and drinks!

What do you enjoy the most about your degree?

I love how I learn something new and different every day. As a parent myself, I assume that I know everything about children and caring for them, but then I’m studying here or I'm on my primary school placement and I find out something brand new about either formal teaching or interacting with children which takes me by surprise. That dynamism in the day-to-day life of a Childcare student is something I find really enriching.

What inspires you?

That’s a tricky one… For me, I’ve had to learn while dealing with disabilities and family responsibilities, so I’m quite inspired by how I don’t let that stop me. My philosophy is just to carry on, keep going, and remember that I can overcome whatever is thrown my way.

Tell us about how you have worked with industry whilst studying your degree (i.e. talks / live briefs / projects).

The main industry job I’ve done is through my placement. I’m based in a school twice a week, in a Year Two class at a local school, which is a great preparation for entering the industry properly once I get my qualifications. At the minute, the class is preparing for their SATs, so I find it interesting to watch the differentiation between abilities within the class and how those individual skills and needs are recognised by the school staff. I get to work with a mixture of the children in the class, so what’s really positive and heartening to me is whenever I can see a big improvement between what I saw of their learning levels when I began compared to their learning level now. It’s quite humbling and gratifying to witness, honestly. Beyond my placement, we’ve had a few guest speakers in during classes, but since I mostly work nights for classes, I don’t get as much access as some other full-time students.

How do you think learning from industry-experienced tutors has benefitted you?

Learning from industry-experienced tutors has definitely prepared me for the real world. The advice and support of my lecturers has prepared me for actually going into a school environment, while I’m experiencing on my placement what it’s like to be on a day-to-day routine in a primary school classroom, which is obviously the best practical learning I can do. Thanks to the preparation I’ve received doing assignments for my degree course, I’ve had a lot of opportunities to help plan lessons alongside the class teacher as well. For example, we’ve done a lot of maths recently, so my role would be to take a small group of children out of the classroom into our intervention room, and work alongside them to improve their learning as best I can. We’ve also done a lot of story maps lately, which involves planning a story from beginning to end, so that they have a clear structure of introduction, main body and conclusion to any challenges presented during the story. It’s pretty amazing to see these pupils developing skills that will serve them all through their lives - I’m proud part of the team that is helping them to achieve those skills.

How would you describe the staff at the University Centre?

I’d say they are all extremely supportive! My lecturers and curriculum leaders all treat their students like a part of the family and are such massive supporters of everything we do in work, in our studies or in our personal lives. If any of their students have faced an issue on the course, then our lecturers have gone out of their way to support us through any difficulties. The HE Team have also been massive helps, since they are always on hand to support us with any problems we might be facing. They’re always eager to check in and see how we are on a personal level too. The support networks we’ve got at the Newcastle College University Centre really are so impressive!

Have you overcome any challenges either before or whilst studying your degree?

The main challenge I’ve faced has been my health. I have invisible disabilities, since I suffer from MS (multiple sclerosis) and IIH (idiopathic intracranial hypertension) which are both quite serious medical conditions. But I don’t let them stop me or hold me back in any way, since I know that getting a degree from Newcastle College University Centre is how I reach my career goals.

What kinds of support have you received during your studies?

I’ve had an evacuation plan pulled together with Student Services and my lecturers in case of a fire. Because the Childcare classrooms are on a higher floor, security guards know to help me down the stairwell in case of a fire. I also know that the Higher Education Support Team are really supportive, even though I haven’t had to use them too much. We also get academic advisors and Learning Enhancement Coaches, who are always available on Teams to respond to any questions or issues we have, literally within hours. It’s reassuring to me that there’s this much thought given to supporting students with their individual needs at the University Centre as a rule, since it’s far more than would have been offered to me had I gone anywhere else for my degree.

What has been the highlight of your time studying at Newcastle College University Centre?

I’ve got to say a bit of everything, really, a mixture of it all! The learning environment at Newcastle College University Centre is really supportive, and I’ve made such good friends with my classmates and teachers on the Childcare course – we’re a small class, there are only eight of us, but it’s like a little family now, so we help each other out as much as we can. I’m also a class representative for Childcare, since I try to do my best to help and support other people wherever I can. I know I’ll remember this time fondly once I graduate.

What’s Newcastle like as a student city, in your experience?

I don’t really use Newcastle as a student city, since I’ve got two kids and a family to take care of, so I don’t really get involved in the nightlife. That said, I can still get some fantastic shop discounts around the city!

In what ways do you think your degree at Newcastle College University Centre has prepared you for employment?

It’s definitely given me the experience, the knowledge and the skills I need to progress onto my employment goals. Thanks to the placement I secured through the University Centre, it’s also given me the experience of working within a classroom and seeing how the day-to-day life of a primary school class plays out. I honestly couldn’t ask for more from the University Centre staff, they’ve all been so helpful across the board in helping me to prepare for my future employment and to figure out my long-term career path as much as I can.

What are your plans after you graduate?

After I finish my Foundation Degree this year, I’m going on to study at Level 6, which will hopefully mean that I can go into teaching afterwards. As much as I love working with the kids though, I would love the opportunity to tackle a job in the mental health field, since I feel like I can contribute so much to that role as well.

What advice would you give to anyone thinking about Steppin’ Up to a degree at Newcastle College University Centre

Absolutely, use your time wisely. Make sure you hit your deadlines. Use your module guides to get the most out of your learning, that’s definitely a big one. And as everyone at Newcastle College University Centre will tell you all the time, no question is a silly question. The resources are all here - from experienced lecturers and industry-standard equipment to a whole network of support workers to help with student wellbeing and academic progression – make sure you use them!

Describe your student experience in three words.

Challenging. Rewarding. Future.

What are your top 5 tips for Steppin’ Up at Newcastle College?

Use your time wisely.

Use all the resources available to you, human or otherwise.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it, or even if you don’t think you do.

Try and have a work-life balance.

Remember that what you put in is what you get out of it.