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university

Wiltshire journalist shares her story to inspire women throughout the UK

Have you ever thought – I’d like to write a book? I’d like to tell my story? Can I write a book? Would anyone actually be interested? 

 

As a person who does a lot of writing as part of my business, it may seem strange to tell you that I’ve often asked myself all of the above. When I was a child I always wanted to be an author but, as I got older I wondered if I truly had anything to say of value. I was also pretty sure I couldn’t sustain a story of fiction for long enough.

After several years of running my own business I realise that I do have a lot to say, and some people will want to hear it.

 

In fact, I’ve learned that we ALL have something to say and there will always be those who want to hear it. All of us have value.

 

Once I truly accepted this fact, I found it surprisingly easy to share one of my stories. I’m now in a place where I’m not worried about those who don’t want to listen – those people will always be around – I’m reaching out to those who are life’s do-ers. Those who at least have a go at their ‘thing’ and those who want to live life with few regrets.

This week, my first foray into writing about myself in a book came to fruition. The book – available on Kindle – is Playing & Staying At The Top of Your Game – http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00KB2XRYI .

It tells stories from a dozen business women from across the south west who want to encourage and inspire other women to try and to persevere if they want to start or develop their own business. Each story is very different. It’s thanks to my women’s business club – I Am Woman – that I’ve finally taken the plunge. I’m already thinking now about doing an entire book covering many aspects of my professional life.

My story shared in Playing & Staying At The Top of Your Game

My story shared in Playing & Staying At The Top of Your Game

My story about starting my own business and what I learned in those early days is not what you think. I’m not the business person who nurtured an idea, let it grow and then went into it with rose-tinted glasses and making a million in a month. My story is very different.

I had my dream job – and I lost it. I never wanted to be self-employed, I didn’t want to run my own business and I was devastated that life had thrown me such a curve ball. However, I couldn’t change the fact that this had happened. All I could control was what I did next – and that’s the story I tell. Looking back, I realise my more negative start actually stood me in good stead. It didn’t mean I didn’t make any mistakes – I made loads. But my view was always realistic and I seemed to be able to spot when something wasn’t working. To find out more, of course, you’re going to have to read the book.

Is this being arrogant? Some might think so – but why do we women often feel embarrassed about blowing our own trumpet? Is it because men think less of us? Not in my case – I actually think it’s more because some women think less of us. Some cannot stand the fact that others are more ‘out there’ than they are. Women can be women’s own worst enemies. Truth is, I don’t actually care what anyone thinks, those who are interested will read the book, those who are not – won’t.

So I’ll end on these two notes – the woman who writes thousands and thousands of words each year about others has now written some words about herself. She also remembers one very important lesson in life which has sustained her. It was a saying which a teacher, Christopher Drew, put into my autograph book on the day I left primary school back in the 1970s. It’s always reminded me that life is always a journey of discovery and, thankfully, there’s so much more left to learn:

‘HE WHO KNOWS NOT AND KNOWS NOT THAT HE KNOWS NOT. SHUN HIM FOR HE IS A FOOL’.

 

A levels – isn’t it wonderful that teenagers will pass or fail in three hours?

The Government has announced A levels are changing. Qualifications will now be based solely upon the ability to pass or fail within a three-hour window of time after two years’ of study.

A mum's view of changes to the A level

The Government wants students to pass A levels through examination only.

When I’m writing for anyone else, I would write about this dispassionately, reporting the matter and canvassing the points of view of others. However, here in my blogging space I can talk as an ex-A level student and as a mother of a teenager.

For me this decision is a dreadful backward step.

 

Let’s not sugar coat this – it’s also a way of lowering the number of people who go into higher education.

It reminds me of a cartoon I saw on Facebook this week, shared by a teacher, showing various animals standing in front of a desk where a teacher was telling them that their pass depended on their ability to climb the tree behind them. The animals included a monkey, an elephant, a bird, a fish….you get the idea. It sweetly encapsulated the problems of examinations when I was doing my O and A levels in the 1980s.

The truth is, we are not all the same and we excel in different areas and that’s how life is. I firmly believe the pressure of an examination is good and I advocate them – but I also believe equal weight should go to course work over the years which shows a level of consistency of achievement, or not, as the case may be.

For me that’s a fairer reflection of someone’s true ability. 

 

In my days  in the sixth form, I loved my studies and I worked very hard. I consistently got As and Bs in my work and that was the expectation for my final examinations. But I knew I wasn’t good at examinations. I found the pressure difficult to manage, I found revision overhwhelming, trying to cover everything all of the time. I didn’t know where to start and went for a scattergun approach. It didn’t work.

My fears were realised when I just about scraped through my A levels. I didn’t fail but I didn’t do well enough to go to a university in the country at that time.

Ironically there was an examination at that time called an S level – higher than an A level. It was in English literature and involved three questions, and you could take texts in with you. I was the only one in my school who took it, a week after all the other examinations had finished. Everyone was demob happy and I still had another exam to do.

Armed with my Complete Works of Shakespeare and Complete Works of Chaucer, I didn’t worry about that one, because I could take the texts in and I knew I could find quotations really quickly. Got a distinction in that exam – with a D in the A level itself.

I did a degree at a college of higher education where coursework counted towards your final result and I did learn how to revise more effectively. But from then on, any test or examination I have done, has involved assessment on the job alongside high pressure tests. For me, that’s more real.

I have a daughter who is like me. I can now see myself reflected in the way she studies and I’m trying to help her be more effective than me. It pains me to think that she may, just may, be disadvantaged in 2018 if she goes on to do A levels. Will she, like me, fail to deliver because her opportunity will come and go within three hours?

What kind of message does this give our children?

 

GCSEs and A levels are easier…so let’s make them harder. Really?

I always find this time of year frustrating when exam results come out for young people – results on which the future depends – or so it seems for those affected. For young people of 16 or 18, getting the ‘right’ results can feel like it’s the only important thing in the world.

And that makes me so angry. It’s also all the media coverage of journalists in schools and colleges with students poised to open their results envelopes. And oh surprise! It’s all As and A*s and Bs, no failures, no really low marks…..

 

Do I blame the media for this? Not entirely.

Everyone should have a chance to shine.....

Everyone should have the opportunity to shine.....

 

I do blame the industry for continually telling the same story in the same way. Wouldn’t it be refreshing to follow a young person who didn’t do so well and help them find a new way forward? How useful would that be?

But, of course, any journalist knows that it’s not that easy. What school or college wants to put forward a student who is not at the top of the class?  Who wants to line up potential failures for exposure? And which young person is willing to be publicly shown as not having done very well?

 

The truth is that many, many young people don’t get As and A*s or even Bs or Cs. Yet the overriding impression is that more people are getting these grades so the examinations must be getting easier.

Examinations are now very different to the outdated O level and CSE system. In those days, you had one opportunity to shine and it occurred during a two or three hour window in a high pressure examination, based on what you could remember.

If, like me, you didn’t function well under that kind of pressure as a teenager – the thought that now my own children can gain marks for the long piece of coursework they’ve slaved over and lavished passion upon is uplifting. To me, it’s a much fairer system allowing youngsters who don’t thrive under examination pressure to have their chance to shine. And that’s generally how degrees and higher education and vocational qualifications work.

I do agree with high pressure examinations being part of a marking system – as life is full of high pressure situations, including a professional life. But that’s not all that is important. Coursework has its place and should be considered, especially in very vocational courses.

Also I think we should hear far more about what to do if you don’t do as well as you hoped. I worked very hard for my O levels and did reasonably well – but now when I go for a job no one cares if I’ve got O levels let alone what the grades were….but then I’m old….

As for A levels, I did pass but that was about all. And that was hugely disappointing – I was expected to be an A/B grade student. I turned out not to be. I would have been the student who, being filmed, was beaming as they opened that envelope and then in floods of tears for not having achieved what was expected.

So what did I do while clasping my C,D,E grades in my hands – knowing I’d failed to gain a place at university studying Medieval English, which was my passion at the time. Did I re-take my examinations to get better grades? Did I give up on higher education and try to find a job?

In my case, I took advice from the school and applied at ‘lower’ level establishments, went through a secondary interview  process for courses which were not full. I went to Bath College of Higher Education (now Bath Spa University) to study on a new BA Hons course in Combined Studies of English Literature & History. And I had a brilliant time there, met some great friends and worked alongside some wonderful lecturers. I must name check here Dr Mara Kalnins – who was very special to me as we shared a love for the work of author D H Lawrence.

While waiting to start my course, an article came out in the local paper listing the achievements of the students who’d done well and where they would be going to study. My name was last and it simply said ‘Fiona Bune is going to Bath’. The suggestion, to me, was that readers would assume I was going to the University of Bath. I’d rather they’d put nothing because it made me feel like an also-ran, an after thought. Years later, I became the reporter on that weekly newspaper managing and writing such stories – what an irony.

So this blog is a message to all of those young people who didn’t get the As and A*s and who are feeling that somehow they’ve failed. You have not failed. You simply are now required to re-assess and think about what you want to do next – then ask for help to get there. How you handle this situation will say far more about who you are – than any amount of A grades. And that’s what a future employer will remember…..

 

When you left school, how did you feel? Share your experience.

My stepdaughter is a few days away from finishing school, A levels completed. It’s a time that she, and many like her, have been waiting for – that moment when you are free and able to take charge of your own destiny.

Or is it? Looking back, I wonder just how much it’s ‘the world’s your oyster’ or is it really ‘I’m all at sea”? It’s easy to think what a wonderful time this is – but for those young people who don’t have a clear plan of where they are going, it’s a scary time.

Before you know it - she's 18.....

Suddenly you are an adult, almost overnight. You are expected to take a certain path – is it university? is it college? is it a job?  Which way do you go? And how much time do you have to get there? Some young people are expected to immediately start earning in order to pay their way. But right now, it’s not that easy. Our young people communicate in a totally different way to us – so picking up the phone to push yourself, or going in to personally hand in a CV is something which scares them. E-mail is great, but it keeps those experiences, those rejections at arms’ length.

I’m not saying this is a bad thing – but today, it’s a hard, hard thing. This is especially true if you are not driven in any particular direction. Passion for a certain profession comes through so strongly and can be infectious but if you don’t know what you want to do – how can you be passionate?

For me, there was never any question of not going into higher education – even though no one else in my family had ever done it. Indeed my Gran thought I was mad to continue ‘studying at school’. For her it was all about getting a job, getting married and having children. That was a woman’s path and any woman who didn’t follow that path was slightly odd.

When I was 16, my father made me go out and get a Saturday job. He said I needed to earn my own money. I remember him putting pressure on me, I have no memory of finding said job or how that came about. But I worked in the Littlewoods store in Southgate, Bath in the small food hall. My monthly earnings came to about £23 – and I felt so rich.

When I finished school, I floundered horribly – I had a steady boyfriend who worked and didn’t get the whole education thing – students were a drain on taxpayers. No surprise we didn’t last the distance.

In fact I didn’t do well enough to get to university to study my beloved English literature, but I did get on to a course in a college of higher education. It was a wonderful period of my life and I’ve never regretted it. I worked every summer holiday so that I could pay off debts and save some cash. Somehow my life bounced along. I wanted to train to be a teacher. Little did I know that would not be the case.

As I look at my beautiful step-daughter and see her juggling her options, I understand how she feels and I haven’t got the heart to tell her that grand plans at her age generally go completely to pieces.

I haven’t got the heart to tell her that life is like that, you make a plan and something comes along to mix things up unexpectedly.

I suppose the lesson is that, the crossroads before her is the start of a scary  adventure – one of many – and that’s okay.

Should our press be free – or not? Review my thoughts…

No more restrictions on our Press thanks....

This week I was asked to fill in a survey about press freedom and the phone-hacking scandal.

It’s part of a study by a university which is questioning journalists across Europe about their views on the issue of regulation of the Press.

Those of us who work in television a lot, often try to talk about the Press as though somehow we are a separate entity. I’ve never believed this. Coming into the industry through newspapers and still writing today – I believe we are all one industry and we should defend, support and, when necessary, chastise each other when things go wrong.

This phone-hacking issue, the Levenson inquiry, centres largely around the national newspapers. Our national newspapers are more powerful than most people realise. Not because us ordinary Joes care about it – but because our law-makers do.

Having worked alongside politicians for many years, I can promise you that those who are ambitious, want to climb the political ladder, really, really care about what the newspapers say. I have even heard politicians make judgements based upon ‘what the Daily Mail would say about it’.

As a regional journalist for most of my career, I’ve always been astonished by this.

 

And many celebrities care too. The amount of times I’ve heard people turn down interviews with the local media, because ‘it’s not national’, ‘it’s a waste of time’ – an argument that has never had much validity and even less now with the internet. When a parish magazine advertising local jumble sales can be found on the internet, the notion of local press almost becomes obsolete…

However, I will absolutely defend the rights of the Press as a whole – it’s a mark of our democracy that our Press is free.

I could not support any further legislation restricting Press freedom. This does not mean I condone phone-hacking – I don’t. I’ve never done it, never been asked to do it, never asked anybody else to do it for me. It’s illegal and the law is already in place to deal with it. That law should be used.

There’s another reason I defend the Press. The written media has to obey the law of the land but the broadcast media also has to obey the Ofcom code which is very strict. Television has to obey much tighter guidelines than newspapers. I well remember coming into television and being amazed about the hoops that had to be jumped through.

One example is secretly recording a telephone call – note, not phone-hacking. In television, you have to seek legal permission to actually record a call. And it can’t be because you ‘think’ something will be revealed. Oh no, you have to be very,very sure you will get something out of it. If you get permission, then you have to then get further permission to use that material. A lawyer has to be satisfied that the material ‘adds further value or something new’ to a programme which could not have been obtained in any other way. So recording a telephone conversation is no guarantee that it will be used at all.

It also is worth remembering that most journalists are not into underhand means to get information. We’re not interested in people’s private lives unless they are hypocrites or it somehow impacts on a public role. We don’t offer sums of  money to people for information (although people often ask for money) and we don’t hack into people’s phones. Yet we still find things out, reveal things, hold things up for scrutiny, regardless of whether or not that makes us popular.

Let’s keep our free Press, we’ll regret it if we don’t….

 

Tuition fees – they’re a great idea? Aren’t they?

Facing the future - to pay or not to pay? for university.

Today was a proud day for me – my beautiful step-daughter embraced the spotlight and appeared on BBC1 in the West presenting a film about tuition fees.

In a short film for regional current affairs programme Inside Out West, she talked about the decision she faces when it comes to going to university or not. Pride aside, it’s an issue we’ve discussed a lot. We cannot pay for her to go to university so she would have to pay her way, through debt.

This has made me think of my own experience of higher education and question the whole issue of tuition fees. At a basic level, I hate the idea, I want all education to be free. It feels as if it’s something that all young people should be able to enjoy.

I’m not coming from a political view-point – I try to avoid that as I’m a journalist and am not keen on pinning my colours to the mast. 

It was 1984 when I was in my step-daughter’s situation. This was a time when just six per cent of those eligible – went to university.

In fact I wasn’t clever enough to go, I went to a college of higher education. I had a great time and have no regrets. I’ve always worked since, but I’ve never earned big bucks. However, for most years, I’ve earned more than £21k.

What have I got out of it? Huge life experience, a knowledge of how to seek knowledge effectively, friends from all walks of life, a worldview that means that life has no boundaries when it comes to career or travel, dreams can be chased, education is enriching. I also work in a career where a degree is essential, it gives you a head start – and that’s all.

But there is one big difference. I left with minimal debt – less than £1,000 after three years. Each year, my fees were paid and I got a grant of £2,200 to pay my bills. I did do a weekend job in my last year of study.

So it’s shocking to me that my own step-daughter or my other children could face a debt of up to £50,000 – and with interest this could rise to £75,000.

Now, almost 50 per cent of young people can go to university, is it realistic that we, as a society, can fund in the way that I was funded?

And is the cost really so high? Martin Lewis of Martins Money Tips says the actual cost will not be as much as that.  If you earn enough to pay it all back, then you will. If not, then you won’t. And there’s something in that. But it still feels like a tax on education.

And the fact that if you’re rich enough you can pay fees upfront undoubtedly gives young people from wealthier families an advantage. The price tag does put off young people from low and middle income families, so there’s another issue there for me. Applications are almost ten per cent down already, and it’s early days.

In all, I understand tuition fees, though I don’t like them. I’m not confident that poorer students will choose university and I’m pretty sure that those from middle income families will also think twice.

I’m not sure if that’s good for a society which wants to compete at the highest level –  but time will tell.  

What to talk about today? Riots, the economy, or exam results?

What a day today, the rain in Swindon hasn’t stopped for a minute and it’s been a momentous day for many young people awaiting A level results.

Five minutes ago that was me.

Turning up at my school as early as possible.

But I wasn’t one of those who stood there crying with joy that I’d got As or even Bs. I was one of the many who hadn’t quite flunked the exams – but as near as dammit. I got a C, D and an E.

In spite of working hard and achieving As or Bs in all of my course work, I’d flipped out in the actual exams and scored really badly.

In my favourite subject, English Literature, I got a D. I completely failed one paper.

Just one four-hour period and that was my legacy to English – that’s how it felt. My only saving grace was that I’d taken an extra English exam – which doesn’t exist now – called an S level and in that I’d got a distinction.

In a few seconds my dreams of going to Hull University were snuffed out. I had to get on the phone and try to find an alternative through UCAS. I didn’t even have good telephone skills at that time.

However I never even considered not going into higher education – it was just a question of how to achieve that with poor results.

Somehow the then lowly Bath College of Higher Education, now Bath Spa University, was doing a fairly new course and they offered me an interview. It was then known as a teacher training college and I experienced a lot of ‘sniffy’ comments when I mentioned it. ‘It just wasn’t the same as university, you know”.

The interview went well, with a wonderful lady who became a mentor for me, Dr Mara Kalnins. I immediately felt at home, was offered a place and thus began three very happy years.

I learned that it’s okay to fail – it doesn’t mean you are rubbish and it doesn’t mean there aren’t other opportunities. It means you have to open your mind.

Some weeks later, results were published from my school in the local paper. The school, unsurprisingly boasted about those who’d got into Oxbridge and other well-respected institutions. The last sentence named me and said I was going to ‘Bath’.

 

That was it.

I immediately felt that that ambiguity might suggest that I was going to the University of Bath, which is highly regarded rather than the college of higher education across the city.

 

I don’t know what was more pathetic – me for caring or the school for doing that. It felt like a slap across the face.

I’ve got no regrets about the path my life took – I met wonderful people, did a fabulous course and have watched as Bath College of HE has grown in stature.

It’s fabulous to succeed, to work hard and to get where you want to be – but it’s even more fabulous to fail, and fail again but to get up, get on and still succeed in the end. I’m sure success is all the sweeter if you’ve had to experience failure along the way.

 

Take a deep breath and find another way!

We all know how excruciatingly annoying is that person who’s always seemed to succeed at everything – watch the Apprentice to find out about those types.

 

So to all the A and AS level students out there – well done for your hard work. If you got the grades you wanted, brilliant.

 

If you didn’t, look for the other path and don’t lower your expectations just because you may have to take a less obvious route.

By the way, on a completely different note – anyone who wants to see my latest documentary for ITV Wales on OCD you can now – http://www.youtube.com/user/mumsinmedia

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