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Proving Them Wrong
“I wish I had found out from the start about what support was available and what I could ask for.”
Alice Gresswell’s experience of college has been mixed. Her support during her foundation course in maths and English was okay but it was dependent on individual lecturers. She also has a support worker, but once they left the role wasn’t replaced. Things got worse when she moved onto her A-levels and she struggled to access any of her learning materials.
Alice is currently in the second year of a psychology A-Level and has completed an A-level in maths.
This is her story.
Leaving school at 13
Alice left school when she was 13 years old, after another pupil threw a pen that hit her in the eye. The experience had a profound impact, causing Alice to leave school and it has also left her experiencing panic attacks.
Due to the incident, Alice had a number of eye tests, and it was discovered that she had a visual impairment, unrelated to her injury. A year later, she lost all her sight. This had a significant impact on her life.
Getting back into education
At 16, Alice decided to return to education and enrolled at her local college to study a foundation in English and Maths. The equivalent of getting her GCSEs.
Despite being told that she should attend a specialist college, Alice was clear that she wanted to study at her local college.
She had an Education and Health Care Plan (EHCP) in place. However, at this stage didn’t have any input from a Qualified Teacher of Vision Impaired children and young people (QTVI). She did, however, have a brilliant maths lecturer.
Alice said: “I had an amazing Maths lecturer. He was absolutely amazing. He went above and beyond and made everything accessible. He researched everything and made sure everything was prepared – because he cared.”
Alice also had one to one support, with a scribe that would sit with her in her lessons, helping her with notes and to understand what information has been written on boards.
However, the support worker left and wasn’t replaced. This loss of support affected Alice and she had to rely on her mum for support in and around college.
She said: “I then had to rely on my mum. This was really hard and annoying too. It’s unfair to ask this of her but without her support I have had to ask people to walk me to the bathroom, which I find really embarrassing.”
Due to her anxiety Alice joins classes via Google class and sits in a different room.
She said: “I tried attending the psychology classroom in the first year. I managed to stay for an hour and a half. When I walked in there was giggling and laughter. Of course, I can’t see anything but my first thought was ‘they’re laughing at me’.
“On another occasion a student threw a pen and hit a girl. It brought it all back again.”
The transition on to A-levels
Alice did well in her access course and decided to stay on at college and study for a Maths and Psychology A-level. Alice decided to spread her A-levels out. She completed her Maths A-level in the spring of 2022 and is now in her second year of her psychology A-level.
Alice knew that she had the aptitude to do well, but it is at this stage that her support fell apart even more.
“I went from a teacher that provided lots of accessible diagrams to nothing. They just drew stuff on film, which was really hard to understand. It was particularly difficult when learning statistics and mechanics and I didn’t manage to complete these modules.
“There was also confusion over a calculator. It took me ages to get one I could use. When I did learn to use it, I was then told I couldn’t bring it into an exam. I would need a different type.
“I also wasn’t taught how to read maths signs in braille until the lead up to the exams, which is basically too late.
“Then I was told not sit my Maths A-level exam as I wouldn’t pass. And I felt they treated me like I was stupid, so much so that I did start to feel that way.
“But I decided to sit an AS level maths and an A level Maths, as I didn’t want to not get a qualification. I felt I had no choice but to prove them wrong.”
Her parents paid for a maths tutor in the end. Alice is convinced she would not have done as well without this extra support.
She added: “I got a C for my Maths A-level! I was so happy, but I also wonder what I could do if I had the support I needed when learning.”
Putting in the right support
Now in the second year of a two-year psychology A-Level, her support is improving. The college has paid for a QTVI to come in who both supports her and gives advice to college on how they can better support Alice.
Alice volunteers for Age UK’s telephone befriender service and as a mentor for Look UK.
She said: “I want to do something with my life. I don’t want to just sit and do nothing. I want to be something and be someone.”
When reflecting back on her experience, Alice explains: “I feel most of the teachers have been supportive and understanding of my needs but have not communicated with the right people at the college to make things accessible.
“I also wish I had found out more from the start about what support was available and advocated more for myself at the beginning. It’s only in the last year or two where I’ve been more vocal.”
When Aleksandr started at Walthamstow College, staff had little understanding of vision impairment. But once the right support was in place, his experience was hugely positive.Find out more about 'When Colleges Get Support Right'
This tool shows how successfully UK colleges comply with the accessibility regulations. You can even search for how well a specific college performed.Find out more about 'College Accessibility Regulations Compliance Map'