Guiding non-traditional learners through higher education: a lecturer reflects and researches

Danielle Chavrimootoo is a Senior Lecturer in the College’s School of Teaching and she is Year 1 Leader for the BA Education Studies degree.

Danielle Chavrimootoo

Danielle Chavrimootoo: Senior Lecturer, Bradford College School of Education

“The degree I work on is for people who are interested in working in education, but who for various reasons are not ready or able to study for a teaching qualification,” Danielle says.

She explains that the students are nearly all ‘non traditional learners’. “We have individual students who come from very disadvantaged backgrounds and face many challenges in their personal lives. Some are carers of children or relatives, possibly on their own. Many are mature students, and most have been out of the education system for some time. Many have issues of confidence, and some need to develop their literacy and communication skills in order to do well on the course.”

Every potential student is interviewed before being offered a place. “There is a tension between being flexible – making it possible for someone who is keen to study to come and join us – and ensuring they are able to cope with the course,” Danielle says. “This is a group of students who have a lot to offer, and we want to be inclusive but also make sure people succeed.” Danielle’s work is therefore part of the College’s commitment to widening participation and guiding students who want to progress but are uncertain about their options.

Across the UK, year 1 in higher education is a vulnerable year when students may drop out. Danielle’s task is to help each cohort of students on her course through the first twelve months. “We have modules that help develop personal, academic and communication skills,” Danielle explains. “We provide a lot of one to one support and encourage groupwork. I monitor attendance and talk to students as soon as there is an issue. We make sure students are aware of all the support that is on offer across the College.”

Student ambassadors on the Education Studies Degree.

Student ambassadors on the Education Studies Degree at Bradford College.

Danielle has set up a student ambassador scheme, where Year 2 students on the Education Studies Degree offer support to those entering Year 1, and she is always on the look out for possible mentors and inspiring speakers from the cultural backgrounds represented on the course.

To explore the issues and come up with more solutions, Danielle recently applied to the College’s internal grants scheme to carry out quantitative and qualitative research into barriers to attainment among South Asian women learners on the Education Studies Degree. “I’m looking for practical outcomes,” Danielle says. “I want the research to make a difference and to ensure the voice of our learners is heard.” She’ll be reporting on the research later this year.

Danielle herself went straight from school into the world of work: finance and then human resources. However, a severe illness, during which she nearly died, led her to change direction. “I wanted to do something that was socially responsible, and I wanted something which was more rewarding.” Danielle did a degree in Applied Social Studies and then a PGCE. “I sort of fell into teaching,” she says. “I taught for a five years at Leeds City College. Then I came here to join the academic staff in the School of Teaching.”

Danielle volunteering at St Augustine's drop in for refugees and asylum seekers.

Danielle volunteering at St Augustine’s drop in for refugees and asylum seekers.

When she went to university, Danielle also began volunteering with asylum seekers and refugees at St Augustine’s Centre in Halifax. Last summer Bradford College allowed her to spend several Wednesdays at St Augustine’s to help set up a careers drop in for refugees, with Calderdale and Kirklees Careers service – a drop in which is still going strong.

“I meet refugees in Halifax, who remember me, who say ‘you helped give me confidence’,” Danielle reflects. “It’s an amazing feeling when that happens.

“It’s the same here at College. You want to help people to do their best, but when you hear students’ stories you realise its not surprising some people don’t flourish in education – they have so many challenges to face and some are trapped in cycle of oppression. One of my students shed tears of joy last week. Despite all the barriers she has faced, she is on target to obtain a first class honours and has won a prestigious competitive scholarship to do a Masters at a university in the East of England.“

Danielle has a religious faith which provides the basis for her ethical values and her commitment to helping disadvantaged people and communities. “You’ve got to be passionate,” she says. “What you believe in matters. It’s not been easy for me, not everything was given to me on a plate. But if people are given opportunities and the right help, and they have the determination to work hard then they can progress.”

Danielle is a member of the College’s Equality and Diversity Committee.

interview by ruth Wilson, photos by Ruth Wilson, Danielle Chavrimootoo and St Augustines.

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