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The course of enlightenment

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Published on 14 July 2017

Graduate Alan Batey
Graduate Alan Batey

When Alan Batey stepped onto the stage to collect his First Class Honours degree at his graduation ceremony he was also awarded a prestigious annual prize after being named the most high achieving student of his year.

These accolades are a far cry from the mature student’s school days where he admits he was ‘rubbish’ and left with ‘terrible’ GCSE results. Now Alan has finished his Education and Curriculum Studies Top Up degree with one of the highest ever marks for a dissertation awarded by Sunderland.

All this was achieved within a year, studying part-time, while Alan, 40, was juggling a full-time job working as a Secondary School Learning Support Assistant and raising his two children Beth, six, and Innes,10, alongside his wife Alison.

Today, his proud family watched him graduate at the Stadium of Light during our annual Graduation Ceremonies (July 10-14) receiving this year’s Ede and Ravenscroft Prize. The award is in recognition of a student’s high academic achievement and individual commitment to continuing professional development and involvement with wider activities alongside their studies.

Alan, from Washington, said: “It’s great to receive this award and to know that my lecturers have nominated me and acknowledge the effort that I’ve put into the last year is a great feeling.

“I certainly have more self-confidence in my academic ability now, having done so badly at school and leaving with terrible GCSE results. University was something I never even considered as a teen.

“But it was my amazing wife, a teacher herself, who encouraged me to push myself and apply for the Foundation Degree at Sunderland College, followed by the Top Up degree at the University. She gave me such incredible support over the last year and always told me I was cleverer than I thought I was.”

He added: “The degree itself was hard work but really enjoyable and I can honestly say I truly felt enlightened by my university experience. The lecturers were excellent, they’re really interesting and knew their stuff, they ensure that you develop your own academic skills too.”

After school, Alan spent several years working as a cleaner, but decided that after his own early experiences of education he was determined to help other young people reach their own potential. In his mid 20s he passed his qualifications to become a nursery nurse, working in Oxclose Community Nursery in Washington, before becoming a Learning Support Assistant at nearby St Robert of Newminster School for the next 13 years. He currently works in Durham with young people who have been excluded from secondary school, supporting them to get back on the right track.

He commented: “As you get older you look at things in a different light. Having worked with youngsters not fulfilling their potential, made me think that was me 20 years ago. Could I now make a difference? It’s been a huge part of what has motivated me in the last year.”

Alan is now considering his future options, but hasn’t ruled out a Masters or PhD, and would like to consider a Learning Support Assistant’s role within a university setting, supporting students through their own challenges in Higher Education.

Michael Elsy, Senior Lecturer in Childhood Studies/Programme Leader for Education and Curriculum, said: “At the heart of Alan’s outstanding achievement is his desire to learn, to question, and to respond positively to the challenges that were put in front of him. But when set within the context of balancing his commitments at home and at work with his studies, serves to reinforce his outstanding achievement and recognition that he justly deserves. Beyond graduation new and exciting opportunities and even greater potential are there to be fulfilled.”