With the launch of The Open University’s new Care Experienced Bursary, OU alumni, current student and employee, Antony shares his story. After a challenging childhood in the care system, Antony underperformed at school and dropped out of a traditional, brick university. A desire to move away from his job in retail to a career supporting children in care by being ‘the kind of person that he needed when he was that age’ led him to The Open University, where he graduated with a degree in Psychology. He’s now studying for a MSc in Mental Health Science and a second undergraduate degree in Biology, both with the OU, as well as working at the OU’s Manchester office as a Senior Student Recruitment and Support Advisor in the STEM Student Support Team.
Growing up in care
My childhood was very difficult and due to a number of reasons, including going through the care system, my education was limited. There were problems at home, which meant I missed a lot of school and as I got older it was harder to catch-up. To deal with the anxieties around feeling inadequate, I used to bunk off and ended up being excluded from two schools. I felt out of my depth and no one invested the time to help me.
I got low grades in my GCSEs and felt like I’d performed below my ability. The same happened at A Level – I passed, but my marks were poor. My results have always upset me.
I left care at 16 and was pretty much told to make my own way in life. A couple of years later, I enrolled in a brick university to study social work. I didn’t really understand what the course entailed, the work involved or the financial implications. I lacked support and struggled, very soon realising that I wasn’t up for it and dropping out after resitting the same year a few times.
I then went into retail, but was never happy – I wanted to do something more.
Trying again with university
One of my close friends was due to graduate from The Open University. I’d seen how he’d been able to fit his studies around his work, earning whilst learning, so decided that I would try again. Being able to work at the same time made studying an option for me – the OU gave me flexibility. I also felt like I was now in a position to take it more seriously and was studying for the right reasons. I struggled and found distance learning tough, but I realised it was one of the only chances I had.
I studied psychology because I’ve always been interested in people and behaviours and why they do the things that they do. Having grown up in care, I’m interested in the social issues that have impacted my life and am passionate about giving something back. Ultimately, I want to be in a position to work with kids in care and help prevent them from going down the wrong road.
Before I started at the OU, I thought studying would just be me and my books, and that I’d only ever email my tutor. I hadn’t realised that there would be plenty of opportunity for face-to-face interaction. My tutors were amazing and would spend hours on the phone going through things over and over again. The way the modules were presented worked really well for me. The OU also has a huge support network of students and alumni. I made friends through the forums, but also built contacts which helped with my career.
There were times when it was tough to carry on with my studies. I had difficulties with my accommodation and was very nearly homeless after months of sofa surfing. I also have ongoing health issues and the medication could make me spaced out and drowsy. I often felt out of my depth, already feeling like an underachiever with lots of self-doubt. But with the support at the OU, I was able to carry on, using all of the resources that were available.
It was challenging to come home after work and get my books out for a few hours. You need motivation and drive. If you don’t put the effort in, it’s not going to happen for you.
Where I am now
Since completing my BSc Honours Degree in Psychology, I have started studying an MSc in Mental Health Science and I have also commenced a second undergraduate degree (BSc Biology). Eventually, after study, I would love to work in mental health, specialising specifically within the criminal justice system, addictions or the care system, or better still all three as sadly they each often go hand-in-hand.
For me, if just one care experienced young person (CEP)– or in fact a CEP of any age – reads this and thinks “if he can do that, I can too” then it will have all been worth it. It sounds cliché, but I want to be the kind of person that I needed when I was that age.
When I was younger, I never in my wildest dreams thought I’d get a degree, let alone go any further, but the OU has given me the opportunity to do that. I never thought it would be possible, but here I am! Without the OU I don’t think it would have been possible. I’m really grateful and owe a lot to the OU.
To anyone thinking of studying with the OU, it’s a no brainer – just do it. You’ve got nothing to lose but so much to gain.
For the 2020/21 and 2021/22 academic years, we’re offering OU students with experience of care a £250 bursary.
If you’ve previously been in, or are currently in care, the Care Experienced Bursary could award you with £250 to help with study-related costs, such as internet or computer equipment.