`I kept thinking, what if I blew it?'

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The Independent Online
It took a lot for Stephen Wright to return to education. Five years ago he had two O levels to his name and an exam history that was "nothing to write home about".

He was stuck in a dead-end job and unlikely to get any further. The logical answer was to return to college (he had left school at 16) in order to get on in life. He did do so and after five years' work emerged with a degree. But the prospect at the time he freely admits terrified him.

"I kept on thinking, what if I blew it? Everyone was looking on in anticipation - will he? won't he do it? There was a lot of pressure - the demands I'd set for myself and other people - how was I going to do?"

His family's support was crucial, he said, for giving him the courage to go ahead. "I suspect without that I might not have done it. It made it a lot better having them to encourage me," particularly as his former colleagues did not always understand. "Some of them said, `Why didn't I stay on a bit longer because there was a chance of redundancy money or I was also giving up the reasonable amount of money I was earning. I felt sometimes that I was doing something they were frightened to do themselves."

Taking the decision to go back into education was not the end of the fears: "I found it terribly daunting particularly because of my previous exam history when I hadn't been that successful. I'd a couple of exams but nothing to write home about. So thinking about going into exam situations - it was all new to me. I was quite fearful that I couldn't cope, that I couldn't do it. I thought other people would be much better than me."

"What I found encouraging at college and university was other people's support, that they saw in me things that I couldn't see for myself."

Stephen persevered and five years later now holds not only a diploma but also a degree in social policy. He now works as a social worker, caring for the deaf. "I'm so much happier now. I was doing something I hated before and now I'm doing something that I really wanted to do. After a bit of hard work you can get what you want. I'm here and I'm much happier. Getting my degree has made me more confident - I just feel I've done a lot better for myself."