Fiona Buckley in the com puter room at the Further Education and Training Centre in King Street.
It is always refreshing to meet people who are strong enough to realise that they have a problem but are also prepared to do something about it
I met two such people at the Further Education and Training Centre (FET) in King Street yesterday, two inspirational students who have overcome the problems of their earlier lives and are now carving out a bright future for themselves by returning to full time education.
The first person I spoke to was Marian Park woman Fiona Buckley who told me she left school straight after her Junior Cert, at the age of 16. “I’ve always worked but I also regretted not carrying on with my education” she said.
Twenty years and three children later Fiona took the brave decision to return to education last year and study for her Leaving Cert courtesy of the Vocational Training Opportunities Scheme (VTOS). She had been made redundant when she was pregnant with her second child.
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She did so well that now she is one of 10 mature students to be accepted on to a four year Social Care degree course at DkIT which she starts on Monday morning.
It was a big step for Fiona to go back to full time education and at first she found the going very tough.
“The first day was almost overwhelming” she said. “After three weeks I felt mentally and physically drained but then, thanks to the huge support of my family and the tutors here who are fantastic, things began to fall into place.
“My tutors are inspirational” Fiona said, “two years ago I was so nervous and scared and now I’m so confident about going on to third level. I just can’t believe it!”
Being a young Mum with three children has meant that Fiona has had to rely on the support of her family which she says has been very important to her. Her partner Karl and her parents have she says been very supportive.
She says that it was also important to her to sit her leaving Cert to show her children, Cole aged 10, Ryan (8) and Georgia (4) how important education is.
“They found it a bit strange at first, their mother going to school, but now they are very proud of me” she said.
A classmate of Fiona’s, Mick (not his real name) has a similar story to tell. Mick is 51 years old and he also left school at 16 after his Inter Certificate and was lucky enough to get work straight away.
He worked as a forklift driver at various companies for 25 years and then one day, out of the blue, he was made redundant. In the intervening quarter of a century the world of work had changed and jobs were hard to find.
“I thought I would get another job quite quickly but a little while turned into ten years” he said.
He worked on Community Employment schemes but his self-confidence was taking a hammering. “I realised that my age and lack of qualifications were going against me and with each unsuccessful application it dawned on me that I would need to retrain in order to have at least a fair chance of getting a job.”
So, having heard about the Return to Education General Studies course, Mick decided to give it a go. He hasn’t looked back since and he is now starting into year two.
He too speaks very enthusiastically about the VTOS scheme. “The class size is small and the work is done on a continual assessment basis so there’s no exams” he said. “The tutors work at a pace that suits us as individuals so nobody gets left behind.”
Another important factor for Mick was the friendships he made during his first year which he says played a huge part in him regaining his confidence and self-respect.
Like Fiona, Mick also has a family and last year, as he was studying for his Leaving, his daughter was studying for the Junior Cert. “There was great competition between the two of us to see which of us would do best” he joked, adding: “She beat me hands down.”
VTOS is open to anyone who is at least 21 years of age and in receipt of a qualifying Social Welfare Payment for at least six months. An applicant who is signing for credits or a dependant spouse of an eligible person may also attend VTOS.
VTOS is currently taking applications from anyone interested in starting in September.
If you would like more information on VTOS, or if you want to apply please telephone Mary Reilly 041 98 30870, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call to the VTOS offices at the LMETB Adult Education Centre, King Street, Drogheda.
This article was written by Andy Spearman
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