Mature student gives an Account of Ayrshire College life

“I was in my forties, you don’t go back to college in your forties.”

That was Samantha Mathieson’s first thought when a friend suggested that she return to education.

Fast forward four years, and 46-year-old Samantha now holds a Master’s degree in Finance and Accounting.


She returned to Ayrshire College this week to talk to us about enrolling at the College and how that decision has changed her life.

“I was born and bred in Scotland but moved down south years ago. When I came back, I really struggled to find a suitable job. I’d worked in management almost my entire life, but found that employers were now looking for qualifications to go with that experience.

“I’d never had a prolonged period of unemployment before and wasn’t sure what to do. Someone suggested going to college but I didn’t know anyone who had gone back to college, to me it was just for young people who were leaving school.

“I went along to the Kilmarnock Campus and spoke to Student Services. I was honest in saying “look, I don’t know what I’m doing here.” They had a chat with me – asking me about myself, my experiences and where I wanted to be in the future.

“Gerry D’Agostino, a lecturer from Accounting, then spoke to me. Immediately I said “I’m absolutely hopeless at maths.” He told me not to worry. Then I said “I don’t do computers.” Again, he told me not to worry.

“He convinced me – a couple of weeks later I was signed up for HNC Accounting.”

The course began and Samantha admits she struggled early on. She was returning to education after 25 years away, after all.

However, she found that as an older student, she could apply herself better than most of her classmates. She wasn’t going out every night living the student lifestyle. In comparison younger students seemed to retain information better than Samantha.

She said “We quickly got together to learn from each other. I would teach them planning and how to set up study plans. They would show me techniques for remembering things.

“Coming to college is a big step when you’re older, it’s scary. You have bills to pay and families to look after. I know a few people who have gone straight back into university and they’ve found it too tough. University’s a whole different way of learning. It’s more ‘here’s your stuff, off you go’. College is great, the lecturers will get you into it slowly and will guide you through the coursework.

“Guidance is a massive thing at college. When I first came here it wasn’t all about learning my course. It was also about the life skills I picked up with it. I thought, being an older student, I couldn’t learn anything else. But I did. I’ve changed so much in the last four years.

“So much so that I’m actually volunteering for the Red Cross. Four years ago I’d never have considered that.”

Samantha acts as a mentor to the current Accounting students at Ayrshire College, visiting once a week to give advice and answer any questions they might have, as someone who’s been there and done it as a student.

After college she went on to the University of the West of Scotland in Ayr and got her BAcc degree, before gaining her Master’s degree in Paisley.

“The current students are all really interested,” She said.

“They ask things like ‘How do you find the time?’ and the honest answer is you don’t at the beginning. It takes dedication and application.

“Two months before I was due to sit my exams at university, I broke an ankle and thought that would be the end of it. But I said ‘no, you’ve come this far’. I broke my ankle in March and passed my exams in May. I was over the moon that I could do it with a broken ankle!”

Samantha’s final piece of advice for anyone thinking of becoming a mature student is “I’d encourage them to speak to someone at the College. It might not be for them but at least they’ll get a greater idea having spoken to someone who knows best. Come and speak to the guys here, they’re absolutely brilliant at giving you advice.

“It’s amazing coming back to college.”

Making Modern Apprenticeships accessible to all young people

kaheadshot2Kirsteen Allison
is an equalities adviser at Skills Development Scotland where she leads on disability. Her role is to tackle under representation in Modern Apprenticeships and training.

As we start to prepare for Scottish Apprenticeship Week in March, we asked Kirsteen to write a guest post on the importance of ensuring that all young people have access to apprenticeships.

I have a number of disabilities. I am hearing impaired and visually impaired. My speech is also slightly affected by my hearing impairment. Having these disabilities means I bring the perspective of a disabled person to my role.

I know from personal experience how difficult it can be to persuade employers to recruit disabled people. I know how insensitive, ignorant and discriminative people can be. I know how hard it can be to ‘fit in’ to a new workplace.

A young disabled person leaving school, entering the world of work for the first time, is particularly vulnerable. They are unlikely to have any experience of applying for jobs or a job interview, so encountering an employer who has concerns about what support they may need, can be frightening and make the young person more inclined to ‘stick’ to a similar environment to school, such as college.

At that young age, they may have received no information on the support available in the world of work, what their rights are, and what the wide range of post school options are.

I had several part time jobs whilst at school and at university. However, it wasn’t until I graduated with my postgraduate diploma and got my first ‘real’ job at the age of 23 (in the same company I work for today) that I had any idea of Access to Work. This is a fund that can contribute towards the cost of any reasonable adjustments in the workplace.

This fund pays for my communication support to help me hear in meetings and equipment to help me hear on the phone. It enables me to do my job and do it well. If I had known about this sooner, it would have avoided many uncomfortable interview situations and misunderstandings in previous employment.

Take my first interview, after achieving my degree and before my postgraduate diploma. It got off to a bad start with the interviewer declaring “oh, you don’t look deaf!” If anyone knows how I should look, please tell me!

He then proceeded to ask me how much it would ‘cost’ his company to hire me. I was taken aback and unable to answer him properly. I did not know he was referring to my disabilities and the potential cost of supporting me. Furthermore, I had no idea how much it would ‘cost’ the company for support – how could I know?

I didn’t know what equipment or support was available to me, nor was I aware of Access to Work. Clearly the employer was not aware either, nor was he aware of the Disability Discrimination Act (as it was at that time) which would have prevented him from asking such questions.

So, what I try to do in my current role is inform young people, parents and teachers of the range of opportunities available after school and raise their awareness of Access to Work funding and other support that is available to them in the world of work. We’ve updated our websites with information on post-school options and videos of disabled young people undertaking a variety of apprenticeships.

We try to ensure that apprenticeships and training opportunities are as accessible as possible by proving training providers with equality training and resources on how to ensure they are recruiting diversely. We established the ASN Access Fund to fund reasonable adjustments on Employability Fund programmes. We have also been trying to challenge misconceptions about recruiting a disabled person.

We are having some good success.

Last year, one particular employer was concerned that it would be too dangerous to recruit a disabled person to an engineering apprenticeship. After speaking to myself, my colleagues and some disability organisations, they have now recruited a physically disabled apprentice.

However, we have a long way to go before we change the perceptions of every employer and indeed every disabled young person who may be thinking the world of work is not for them. We are always keen to hear from employers, disability organisations and disabled people on the work we are doing and answer any questions they may have.

Want to know more?

You can contact Kirsteen at For more information on Modern Apprenticeships, visit

Tackling gender imbalance in colleges and universities – whose job is it anyway?

The Scottish Funding Council (SFC) held a workshop on 31 May 2016 to share the findings of research carried out by the Higher Education Academy which mapped the approaches being used to address gender imbalance in Scotland’s colleges and universities, to assess what approaches work best and why. The findings of the research are outlined in a report, Whose Job is it Anyway? Analysis of approaches to tackling gender imbalances at the subject level in Scotland’s colleges and universities.

The aim of the research was to:

  • Map initiatives in Scotland’s colleges and universities to tackle gender imbalances
  • Assess what approaches work best and why
  • Assess what approaches don’t work and understand what lessons can be learned
  • Recommend actions to achieve sustained improvements.

One of the key objectives in Ayrshire College’s 2014-17 Strategic Plan is to challenge gender stereotyping in career and learning choices. Significant efforts have been made on this priority for action over the past two years, and the work the College is doing to tackle gender imbalance in subject areas like care, engineering and computing was referenced extensively throughout the Higher Education Academy report.

At the workshop representatives from colleges, universities, NUS Scotland, Skills Development Scotland, Equate Scotland, the Equality Challenge Unit and the College Development Network heard presentations from Fiona Burns, Access Policy Lead at SFC and from the author of the research report, Dr Pauline Hanesworth from the Higher Education Academy.

Vice Principal Jackie Galbraith, a member of the SFC Gender Steering Group, took part in the workshop, along with Angela Alexander, Ayrshire College Student President and Jane Henderson, the College’s Developing the Young Workforce Manager.

In this article, Jackie outlines the challenges we are trying to address, summarises the conclusions of the report and describes the approach taken by Ayrshire College to tackling gender imbalance.

The context and the challenge

In June 2016, statistical publications from Skills Development Scotland (Modern Apprenticeship Statistics Full Year Report 2015/16) and the Scottish Qualifications Authority (Annual Statistics Report 2015) demonstrated that there is still much to do to address gender imbalance in Modern Apprenticeship frameworks, college courses and subject qualifications at school.

Scotland’s youth employment strategy, Developing the Young Workforce, has a KPI (key performance indicator) to reduce the number of Modern Apprenticeship frameworks with a 75:25 or worse gender balance to 60% of  frameworks by 2021. In 2015/16, 74% of MA frameworks had a gender balance of 75:25 or worse.

For colleges, one of the KPIs is to increase by five percentage points the minority gender share in each of the ten largest and most imbalanced subjects by 2021. These are long-term targets which rely on shifting deeply ingrained social and cultural factors. As an illustration of the challenge, look at female and male entries to Higher National Certificates/Diplomas in 2015.  The challenge continues at university and the following diagram, based on figures from the Higher Education Statistics Agency published in February 2016, shows that the numbers of female graduates in areas like the physical sciences, computing and the built environment declined in 2015 compared to the previous year.

So, we have a problem. At a time when high quality, high value jobs abound in sectors like digital, the built environment and engineering, these industries persistently fail to attract women – despite considerable efforts by many employers and others to address this. Similarly, jobs growth in the early years sector is clear and the value of having more men in that sector is increasingly understood – yet the number of males continues to be low.

Enter the Scottish Funding Council’s gender action plan.

The SFC Gender Action Plan 

Fiona Burns outlined the ambitions set out in the Scottish Funding Council’s interim Gender Action Plan which was published in February 2016. By 2020, SFC is asking all colleges and universities to ensure that:

  • Actions to improve gender equality are mainstreamed
  • There are targeted approaches to tackling underrepresentation at a subject level
  • All widening participation initiatives will be focused on achieving more admissions from males and females.

By 2030, SFC is asking all colleges and universities to ensure that no subject has an extreme gender imbalance (75:25) and universities to reduce the gap between males and females in undergraduate study to five percentage points.

Fiona invited workshop participants to identify the key messages from the report that are of most useful in tackling gender imbalances, and what the SFC should do to enable the sectors to use the research to shape policy and practice. The outcomes from discussions on the day will inform the final version of the Gender Action Plan which is due to be published later in the summer.

Research findings

Dr Pauline Hanesworth presented the findings and recommendations of the research project, describing a framework of action. Seven themes for tackling gender imbalance effectively emerged in the research. These were:

  1. Strategic approaches – adopt a stronger strategic oversight that could maximise staff capacity and impact potential
  2. Mechanisms for success – capitalise on existing mechanisms
  3. Evidencing impact – develop understanding of what the results of tackling gender imbalances look like
  4. External enablers – connect to external activity
  5. Student involvement – support for the continuity and capacity of students as partners in tackling gender imbalances
  6. Cross-sector support – colleges and universities learning from each other’s specific experiences and expertise
  7. Subject focus – focus on all subject imbalances.

A framework for action, represented in the diagram below, was offered for consideration.

At the centre of the framework is a commitment to support subject choice and challenge gender stereotypes. Two foundations are required to support this commitment – institutional infrastructure and sector support.

1. Institutional infrastructure

  • Systems for strategic oversight and institutional commitment
  • Staff development and resource support
  • Mechanisms to develop and support effective relationships.

2. Sector support

  • Mechanisms for collaborative partnership working
  • Capacity and finance
  • Further research and resources.

Supporting these foundations are four areas of focus:

  1. Influencing the influencers
  2. Raising awareness and impacting on aspirations
  3. Encouraging applications
  4. Supporting student success

Finally, a number of enablers in the outer circle of the framework diagram were identified to ensure successful application of the model.

The main recommendations in the report are that colleges and universities should:

1. Develop institutional commitment to tackle student gender participation imbalances

2. Develop the capacity and motivation of all staff to tackle student gender participation imbalances

3. Adopt a theory of change methodology for the development of approaches

4. Develop holistic and longitudinal approaches that support young people throughout their educational choice process

5. Adopt a multi-pronged approach that combines the four areas of focus described above

6. Support student involvement in approaches through the development of student-led, student/staff co-created and student-delivered initiatives

7. Work in collaboration with other institutions and in partnership with other sectors

In addition, national sector agencies are encouraged to:

8. Develop a national campaign and strategy for tackling of gender inequality

9. Create a virtual and physical hub of and for practitioners tackling student gender participation imbalances

10. Broaden the remits of sector agencies and organisations to support the gender equality work of colleges and universities

The Ayrshire College approach

So, whose job is it to tackle gender imbalance in college and university courses? The Higher Education Academy report reached the conclusion that it is all of our jobs.

We agree, and well before this research was conducted we were already making progress on the recommendations subsequently outlined for colleges. Tackling inequalities underpins all of the College’s strategic documents including our Outcome Agreement and our work to address gender imbalance in careers and learning choices takes many forms.

Sparking an interest in STEM at a young age is very important and the College does this in a range of ways, for example by supporting Primary Engineer in primary schools, by running CoderDojo coding clubs (including girls-only clubs) for young people from the age of 7 and by organising STEM workshops for female pupils in college campuses. This interest in STEM needs to be sustained throughout primary and secondary school and onto college, and influencing those who influence young people’s subject and career choices is vital. For example, at our recent annual employers’ dinner the theme was tackling gender stereotypes in careers.

Central to our approach to tackling gender imbalance is working with students and we support the Ayrshire College Student Association’s  #ThisAyrshireGirlCan campaign to encourage women to study for careers which are traditionally dominated by men in areas like engineering, technology and construction. In March 2016, in partnership with the College, the Student Association created a film to celebrate female STEM students.

Working in partnership with local, regional and national organisations is important in tackling gender imbalance and underpins the Ayrshire College approach. Supported with funding from Skills Development Scotland, we produced a video series #WhatIActuallyDo to tackle gender imbalance in STEM apprenticeships by raising awareness of what apprentices actually do in their jobs. The short films featured five female engineering apprentices working in Hyspec Engineering, GSK, Prestwick Aircraft Maintenance, Spirit Aerosystems and Woodward. As well as interviews with the apprentices on what motivated them to pursue their chosen career and short films showing a day in the life of the apprentice, there are interviews with their employers talking about the benefits of apprenticeships to their companies.

The young women in these short films offer positive role models for others. One of the apprentices featured in the video series, Abbie Robb, reached the final for the Interconnect Scotland STEM Student of the Year award – the only apprentice and college student to do so! On International Women’s Day this year, Abbie spoke about her experience as an apprentice aircraft engineer to an audience of over 100 primary and secondary school girls and female STEM students.

When young women embark on STEM courses, we want to ensure they get the best possible experience which builds their confidence in moving on after college in the sector of their choice. On Monday 13 June we launched Ayrshire Connects – a mentoring network for female STEM students across the College to connect to each other, to students in other colleges and universities, to employers and women in the industry sectors they aspire to enter, and to senior pupils in secondary schools across Ayrshire. We are looking forward to working with Equate Scotland to connect the Ayrshire network to Interconnect Scotland.

ayrshire connects

Throughout the year, the College takes every opportunity to promote women in STEM by organising events and social media campaigns, for example around Girls in ICT Day in April every year and Ada Lovelace Day in October. Look out for new stories on our blog leading up to National Women in Engineering Day (#NWED16) on 23 June.

And, it’s not just about supporting women in male-dominated areas – we also have sustained activity to encourage boys and men into female-dominated sectors like care through our #ThisManCares campaign.

Follow us on social media to find out more about how we are tackling gender imbalance or get in touch with me at – we would love to hear from you.

Want to know more? Click on the links below

Whose Job is it Anyway? Higher Education Academy report

SFC Interim Gender Action Plan

Alison Malcolm, SFC Policy Officer – blog post on the SFC Gender Action Plan

#ThisManCares – Ayrshire College campaign to attract men into courses and careers in care

#ThisAyrshireGirlCan – Ayrshire College Student Association campaign to promote women in STEM

#WhatIActuallyDo – Ayrshire College video campaign highlighting female apprentices in science and engineering

Pitching the Perfect idea

Ayrshire College students had the opportunity by the anti-sectarian charity Nil By Mouth to provide a cutting edge idea for its next campaign.

Groups from the 24/7 Plus course from Ayr, Kilmarnock and Kilwinning each had to come up with their own innovative concepts for the ‘Pitch Perfect’ competition, and present them to a panel of judges.

There could only be one winner and smiles were etched on the faces of the Ayr team when they were told the good news!

However, the high quality of all three entries has given Nil By Mouth some great ideas to progress with.

Here we speak to Dionne Campbell, Jack Duncan, Christopher Field, Claire McGreevy and Chelsea Pettigrew – the winning team – to talk about their involvement in the ‘Pitch Perfect’ project.

Pitch Perfect winning team


What were your initial thoughts about the competition?

Christopher: “We started the project off by listening to a presentation about sectarianism from Nil By Mouth’s Dave Scott. We were set the task of creating an idea to stop sectarianism in Scotland. We learned about sectarian language and some high profile cases of sectarianism – such as the shocking online attacks on Celtic fan Jay Beatty.”

Claire: “The initial presentation was really interesting and it got me hooked on wanting to be a part of the Nil by Mouth project. I learnt a lot about sectarianism and as soon as I left the presentation I instantly started to brainstorm ideas.”

Chelsea: “I really enjoyed Dave’s initial presentation about sectarianism as he was up front about the subject yet made it funny. He bonded well with us and gave us great examples of what sectarianism is and how serious it can get.”


What was your idea and how did you come up with it?

Dionne: “We decided that the best way to get the anti-sectarianism message across to young people would be to create an app for smartphones, as well as a social media campaign, as we felt that was the best way to reach our target audience. We felt if we could come up with an idea that interests us, then it would also interest our peers.”

Claire: “The app makes people aware of online sectarianism and the consequences of sectarian behaviour. We highlighted a number of examples of people using sectarian language.”

Jack: “We did brainstorm other options, like a poster, but realised that the majority of people our age use smartphones and are unlikely to stop to look at a poster. That’s why we ultimately went down the app route.”

How did you execute the idea?

Chelsea: “We began by researching sectarianism. The amount of information that we found out was unbelievable – I wasn’t previously aware of half of the stuff I was reading, but it was really useful to know. We also filmed silent videos where we told hard-hitting sectarian ‘Cardboard Stories’ for maximum impact.”

Jack: “In terms of building the app, we found a free app creating website called ‘Appypie’. Once we gathered and uploaded all of the information for the app, we then created a Facebook page to integrate with it.”

Dionne: “Researching sectarianism was definitely my favourite part of the project. It really surprised me when I found out what’s considered sectarian language; and the consequences of using it. Putting the app together was also a lot of fun as it really made us knuckle down and work as a team.”

What was it like pitching your idea to the judges?

Christopher: “On the day of the pitch I was very nervous hoping everything would go as planned. We walked in and introduced ourselves to the judges and provided them with iPads so that they could put our app into action. We played the videos we had created, which explained what the app is and how it works, before we talked about how we found the whole experience of learning about sectarianism.”

Dionne: “This was the part that many of us were dreading as we don’t have a lot of confidence. We thought this might decrease our chances of winning. However, when we experienced slight technical difficulties at the start with our video, we stepped up to the plate and explained how they app worked. Once I heard the judges’ positive feedback, I thought ‘we have a chance’.”

Chelsea: “We talked about how we felt about sectarianism and showed our app to the judges. Standing in front of the judges was a little nerve-wracking and to be honest, I did feel scared when I first went in. But as the pitch went on I could feel myself improving.”

How did you feel when you found out you had won?

Claire: “When we got called in to found out the result, we were so desperate to know if we’d won. As the judges gave us feedback I was starting to expect a “but…”, however they announced us as the winners. I was so excited that I nearly started crying! I couldn’t believe all of our hard work and effort had paid off. I’m so proud of all of us.”

Christopher: “We were the first of the three groups to present our idea so we had an anxious wait before the results were announced. The judges gave us detailed feedback on the app and said it was a brilliant idea. When they said “Congratulations, you are the winners”, I was absolutely delighted.”

Jack: “When they told us that our idea was the best they had seen and would work well, we were ecstatic. I got a real sense of accomplishment and throughout this whole experience I feel that my communication skills have improved massively. I feel so much more confident.”

Nil By Mouth aims to challenge people to think about their attitudes towards sectarianism and the harmful impact it has on our society.

For further information on the anti-sectarianism charity, visit:

Ayrshire College 1, Bigotry 0

Ayrshire College students were recently challenged by the anti-sectarian charity Nil By Mouth to provide a cutting edge idea for their next campaign.

Nil By Mouth’s campaign director Dave Scott has kindly agreed to write for us about the competition, and the charity itself.

Nil By Mouth

Sectarianism is a hot topic in Scotland these days. It conjures up images of anger, noise, violence, intolerance and chants on football terraces. But how much do we really know about this complex problem? And what is being done to tackle it? Can we separate fact from fiction?

That is the challenge Nil by Mouth sets itself as we work with schools, colleges, workplaces and communities right across Scotland.

The charity was set up by Glasgow teenager Cara Henderson in response to the brutal sectarian murder of her friend Mark Scott. She believed that sectarianism was being swept under the carpet and it was time to do something about it. She set the charity up with the aim of challenging people to think about these attitudes and the harmful impact they have on our society.

The aim of our work is not to preach but simply to ask questions, to encourage people to revaluate old stereotypes and prejudices, and perhaps ask as many questions of their own views as they do other peoples.

Over the last few years we have been working in partnership with Ayrshire College to raise awareness of sectarianism and offer students and staff the opportunity to have their views heard on the subject. We have worked with sport students and the coaches of tomorrow – asking them how they would address problems on the touchline or the dressing room. We have spoken with lecturers and staff about how it can manifest itself in the workplace.

One of the areas we have been keen to highlight is the growing use of social media to subject others to sectarian abuse. Students seemed stunned as we showed them the potential consequences of online abuse and the negative impact being exposed as a ‘twitter troll’ can have on your reputation and employment prospects. They seem equally surprised when they discover that two thirds of arrests for sectarian behaviour have nothing to do with football. And participants have also given us things to think about, asked us questions that we did not have the answer to. We’ve enjoyed every session we have ran across the college and students and staff have always been open and welcoming.

In May this year, young people on courses at the College’s award winning HIVE (Hope, Inspiration and Vision in Education) facility took part in one of our ‘Pitch Perfect’ competitions, which gave them the opportunity to come up with their own campaigns aimed at raising awareness of the issue across Ayrshire.

It was fabulous to see groups from the various campuses present their ideas and it was clear that they had put a lot of thought into them. It was the first time many of them had taken part in a programme like this and they all gave an excellent account of themselves. Not only have they learned a lot about the harmful impact of sectarianism on our society but they have also come up with their own campaigns to create positive change.

The college has a smashing group of staff and students and a real commitment to equality. We greatly value our relationship with Ayrshire College and the opportunity it has provided us to spread our message that Scotland is bigger, better and bolder than bigotry.

For more information on the work of Nil by Mouth visit our website, find us on Facebook or follow us on twitter: @NBMScotland

Guest Post – Oceana: Girl, interrupted

Oceanablogphoto.jpgLast month, Sara Turkington wrote a post describing some of the initiatives she has been involved with in her role as Equality and Inclusion Officer at Ayrshire College.

This month we welcome Oceana. Oceana is a trans activist, Community Development Worker with the Scottish Transgender Alliance, and a Stonewall Scotland LGBTI Role model. She is involved in many projects across Ayrshire and nationally, designed to raise awareness and promote understanding of LGBT+ issues. Oceana actively supports the College in our commitment to trans inclusion and has facilitated several student trans awareness sessions with Sara.

Oceana was recently part of the ‘Translating LGBT+ Conference’ held in East Ayrshire. The Conference was the first of its kind to be held in Ayrshire and was organised by the Ayrshire LGBT+ Development Group, of which Ayrshire College is a member.

Trans is about gender, people are not trans by choice, we are trans by birth and have as little control over this reality as anyone else does. The only choice we have to make is how we are going to deal with this knowledge, and what steps we are prepared to take in order to be able to lead happy, productive lives.

There was no one more disappointed than I was when it became apparent I was a boy. As far as I was concerned I was a girl; I’d always been a girl, I just didn’t look like one. From the moment I became aware of the difference between boys and girls I knew something was wrong. Conditioned from birth to conform to the gender norm I was in permanent conflict, I hated my physical self but was too afraid to talk to anyone about it, and so I spent my entire adolescence thinking I was the only person in the world to have ever felt this way.

Not surprisingly then, the educational environment was not easy for me. I was intelligent, articulate and capable and yet I was completely unable to focus or concentrate on study. The pressure to conform was all-consuming and, after being excluded from school on multiple occasions for disruptive behaviour, I was eventually permanently expelled with no idea of what to do or where to go with my life.

Back then, I had no language to express my feelings or anyone to turn to for support. It wasn’t until much later in life, helped by the explosion of information provided by the internet and the advent of social media, that I was able to interact with others who felt the same way. I began to come to terms with my trans status and make informed decisions about what to do with the rest of my life.

Translating this cyber freedom to the real world is an altogether different challenge. Trans people are still isolated within our communities, they face the risk of verbal or physical abuse every time they leave their homes, and they are still greatly misunderstood by a large proportion of the wider population.

Trans students are on the front line of this challenge, our institutions are filled with those who share the misconceptions and misunderstandings of the wider communities they serve, and it is here that we have a real opportunity to change minds and make a difference to peoples’ lives. I am actively involved in this process of change and one of the most important and rewarding relationships I have is with Ayrshire College.

Twelve months ago I received a telephone call from Sara Turkington, the College’s Equality and Inclusion Officer, and it started a process that has subsequently enabled me to support the College in all sorts of ways – from signposting support options for students to trans awareness presentations and webinars. I am very proud of the work that Sara and I have been able to do and looking forward with great excitement to what can be achieved in the next twelve months.

Access to education is one of the most fundamental and powerful tools society can give and the ability to be yourself within the learning environment is crucial to its success. Trans students, like any other, should be worried about what they are going to do with their lives, not which bathroom they are going to use.

Ayrshire College is making huge strides toward LGBT+ equality, and I am deeply impressed by the progressive and inclusive attitude of the College as a whole.

Keep up the good work!

For further information on the Scottish Transgender Alliance please visit For LGBT Youth, go to

If you would like to learn more about Ayrshire College’s LGBT+ work please contact the Equality and Inclusion team at