Thinking of going back to college: ask the expert

I’m a 29-year-old single mother to a daughter who’s 9. I am currently employed on a zero hour contract and my hours are constantly being messed around.  I’m looking at the possibility of going back to school to study, but have no idea of where to start….who to call….or even if I’ll be able to support myself and my daughter if I do enrol at college.  Ideally I would be looking at studying full time during daytime hours as I would like to study while daughter is attending school.  I am possibly looking at entry level courses regarding catering, hospitality, restaurant management and business management. I have nearly 15 years’ experience within these subjects and would like to put that experience to good use.  Also any information regarding financial help and support during the time I will be studying would be greatly appreciated.

Understandably you feel you’ll have better options for earning your livelihood if you gain some up-to-date qualifications.  I think you need careers advice before you start any course, however. Contact the government careers helpline  (0800 100 900) and say you want to discuss the next stage of your career with one of the careers advisors – it’s a free service.

A warning to start off – improving qualifications doesn’t always improve job prospects.  When employers recruit for supervisor posts in catering and restaurant management many types of vocational qualifications count for less than practical experience (which you already have) and the ability to work unsocial hours (which you may not have).

You’re currently looking at entry level management courses in catering, hospitality, restaurant management and business management.  You’ve got 15 years experience in these subjects.   You haven’t said anything about your existing qualifications (including NVQ ones), but you may be over-qualified already for entry-level study.

One possibility is you should set your sights higher –  eg by starting a course that will lead directly to a Diploma rather than one leading to a Certificate.  Once you’re talked to the objective careers advisor and settled on your career and study path, then please talk  to the college admissions and course tutors about which level of course is right for you personally.  Some people need a gentle introduction to study, others do well on something more challenging straightaway.

Although I think you should talk over your career plans directly with one of the free careers advisors mentioned above, my personal thoughts are that the working hours in the catering, hospitality and restaurant management trades tend to be very family-unfriendly.  As you have a 9-year-old daughter, business management may be the more practicable career option for you than the others you’ve mentioned.

The helpline careers advisor can also help you sort out the funding of your course and supporting you while you study.  There’s a huge mixture of help available, depending on the level and type of course you study and your personal / financial circumstances.  Please remind the careers advisor that you’re on zero hours contracts and should be regarded as unwaged.

If you’re on any kind of state benefit / income protection scheme that might mean your course fees and childcare costs will be paid for you.  Some courses offer bursaries (eg the tuition fees for Occupational Therapy and Nursing degree courses are often met through bursaries).  There are state schemes and a wide range of education charity grants to help people in different circumstances (eg the Family Action’s Educational Grants Programme).  Most learners aged over 24 studying for a Level 3 or Level 4 course will qualify for an Advanced Learning Loan that they don’t have to pay back until they earn over £21,000 a year.

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