Guest post – Julie McLachlan: Ambitious for Ayrshire

IMG_0763.JPGJulie McLachlan is Business Development Officer at the Scottish Council for Development and Industry and a former student of Ayrshire College. Here she describes her journey from school into further and higher education, and the career she has embarked on.

I first visited Ayrshire College in 2007 as a starry-eyed girl from Ochiltree. Back then it was to enrol as a student. Last month I revisited the College, now working for Scotland’s leading economic development organisation.

I became a student of Ayrshire College to study sociology on a part-time basis for three reasons. Firstly, after fifth year I was bored at school. Secondly, I wanted to enter the world of work and earn some money before going to university. And lastly, through Modern Studies at school, I had learned of the inequality and poverty faced by many in our society, and indeed across the world, and I wanted to change this.

Being a student at the college provided me with the flexibility to be able to work yet also build on my knowledge to be able to study politics at university. It was also a completely different environment from school. You are given more responsibility and treated as an adult but, at the same time, you are provided with the resources and guidance to immerse yourself in your subject and learn competing insights and ideas from classmates from across and beyond Ayrshire.

I embarked on my academic career studying Politics at the University of Strathclyde where I gained extensive knowledge of public policy and UK and foreign political systems. After I obtained my Honours degree I wasn’t quite ready to leave the glamour of university libraries and, wanting to delve into my subject matter more, I decided to undertake an MSc in Global Security at the University of Glasgow. This demanding and comprehensive course analysed the new contemporary security challenges currently faced at the local, national and global level including human security, environmental security and economic security.

Once I left university I didn’t manage to secure graduate level employment, despite relentless efforts in applying for jobs that I didn’t want to work at, most of them based in London or unpaid. However, my problems were solved by an organisation called Adopt an Intern, which provides graduates with hands on experience through paid internships.

Through Adopt an Intern, I joined the Scottish Government and worked in two high profile policy areas as part of an intensive graduate internship. I worked on Commonwealth Games Business Legacy with a range of partners including local authorities, Scottish Enterprise and the UK Government to deliver a programme of business legacy events. After the Commonwealth Games, I joined the Scottish Government Cities Team, where I supported the delivery of the cities strategy, working with Scotland’s cities to optimise growth for the benefit of the whole of Scotland.

Sadly, my time at the Scottish Government was not forever but I then had a fantastic opportunity to join the Scottish Council for Development and Industry (SCDI) as a Business Development Officer. This role was a great follow on from my time and experience at the Scottish Government to engage and empower economic growth.

SCDI is an independent economic development organisation which seeks to influence and inspire Government and stakeholders with an ambitious vision to create sustainable economic growth for Scotland. Our diverse and influential membership spans across the public, private and the social economy.

In a professional capacity, it is great to see the College move from just being a provider of education and training towards playing a leading role in local communities and the Ayrshire economy as a whole. In doing so, it aims to raise the aspirations and empower all those that come into contact with it. Raising aspirations for young people in Ayrshire is fundamental to growing the regional economy and this is particularly true for girls and women, traditionally left out of growing industries like engineering.

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has broken the ultimate glass ceiling – now there should not be anything that girls and women from Ayrshire cannot achieve. But let’s set our sights beyond Scotland because Ayrshire College could have the girl who will be the next Periscope or Twitter founder, or indeed a lead engineer in one of Europe’s spaceports!

By raising our ambitions we will combat Scotland’s economic challenges of poor productivity, a lack of innovation and weak internationalisation. The answer to these economic puzzles lies not only in Scotland’s regions but in our people. Ayrshire should be a place with global ambitions. So, here’s the challenge.

When Nicola Sturgeon became First Minister, she said “This is a special and very proud moment for me – a working class girl from Ayrshire given the job of heading the government of Scotland”. Her achievement is special. But let’s not settle for stories like Nicola’s being an exception, let’s make these stories the norm. To do so, we need to make sure that every young woman walking into college for the first time does not face barriers that will ever hold her back from achieving her ambitions.


Sometimes the smallest step is the biggest of your life.

Tourism student Marie Doran from Kilwinning shares her story about how taking the big step to come back to college and retrain for a new career helped change her life.

I loved my old life as a support worker working for the learning disability team in Kilwinning where I helped people who had a learning disability to live independently in their day to day living. I had 30 clients a week and supported them in ways like shopping, budgeting, paying bills, attending meetings and arranging holidays. It was a challenging but extremely satisfying job and I felt I was making a difference. I also attended college on day release to achieve HNC Social Care. Married with three children, I was confident and happy with my life, but it turned out fate had other plans for me.


In 2011, I was involved in an accident and suffered a horrific injury to my back. I was on a bus when the driver took a corner too sharply and I fell off my seat hurting my back. An MRI scan revealed that my spine had popped and I needed an operation immediately as any delay would result in me being paralysed.

My recovery has been a painful process – not just physically but emotionally too. I was left with my left leg numb and had years of attending hospital and receiving physio. I lost my job through the accident and was told by one of my doctors that it was unlikely I would ever work again. I was completely unprepared for this and it put me under enormous strain, mourning the loss of the life I had. My marriage broke down and I had to rely on my circle of friends to look after me and my children. I became depressed and began a rollercoaster ride of different emotions.

My condition is called Cauda Equine. Having never heard of this before, I researched it online and discovered a Facebook page for women with this condition. This was the lifeline I needed. The whole group was so supportive and inspirational, and it was not long before I was Skyping other sufferers around the world. I finally started to take charge and feel in control of my body.

Around the same time, a new friend encouraged me to get back out there and meet people again. I am a people person and need the socialisation to stimulate me and get my positive outlook on life back. My first small step was volunteering in a local community centre as a secretary.


I have a passion for travel and always loved researching holidays for friends and family online, and it started me thinking that maybe I could do something like this as a new career. It was time to focus on what I could do rather than what I couldn’t do! I applied for college and was interviewed almost immediately. I started on the course before I had the chance to lose my confidence.

Coming to college has been a big step for me to take, but it was a positive step that gave me a purpose and an incentive to get out of bed in the morning. My class has been amazing – we all gelled right away, and even at my lowest points when I thought of giving up they encouraged me to keep going. I have had great support from the College’s inclusive learning team and student services team. They have been a godsend and helped me overcome the difficulties I have had juggling a health condition with my college work.

I would encourage anyone reading this who might have a health problem, or who is at a point in their life when their confidence is low, to seriously consider coming to college to help them rediscover their life. College is liberating – you have the freedom to think in different ways, discover new ideas and skills you never knew you had. I have started to focus on who I want to be rather than dwelling on who I’ve been so far. There is a whole new future opening up for me thanks to finding something I am passionate about. Doing something you enjoy definitely helps you get your confidence back.

My advice is to find a level of course you can cope with and don’t push too hard – take baby steps at first. Although I have a HNC in Social Care, I could not have managed the HNC Travel and Tourism first time around. The NC has been a perfect choice. It lays the foundations of learning about the tourism industry and I can’t wait to discover more. More than anything, the NC Travel and Tourism course has given me the confidence I needed to push myself.

Ideally, I would love to get back to work. I have a work ethic and I want to be a role model for my children and make them proud of me. I am also interested in doing some peer mentoring, using the skills I have to help others discover the joys of learning. I love researching travel and particularly enjoy product management, and my dream job would be in this area or working in a travel agency. 


My next mission is to get some relevant work experience so that I can start to make that dream a reality.


Tablets and education

Ayrshire College recently added to its stock of tablet computers with 30 new iPads to support learning and teaching across the College through the Learning Resource Centres on the three main campuses. The Learning Technologies team will be providing training in the practical use of the iPads, as well as how each curriculum area can use them for excellence in learning and teaching. Learning Technologist Bill Lennox explains.

Rise of the machine

In recent years information and communication technologies (ICT) have gained significant ground, both in the day-to-day lives of the young and not-so-young, and in schools and colleges around the world. Indeed, many believe they are the future of education. According to some experts technology has transformed society from top to bottom and changed public expectations on what education systems should deliver and how.

The use of conventional computers like laptops and netbooks is well established in schools and colleges, with a considerable body of literature to confirm their value and impact. Although the integration of tablet devices such as the iPad is still very much at the innovation stage, there is already published research on the impact of these devices on learning and teaching which demonstrates the benefits and innovative practice engendered.

In barely a handful of years, the tablet has appeared in educational establishments around the world as no previous innovation has succeeded in doing. The exact figures are difficult to pin down, but it is certainly the case that the integration of tablets into education is proceeding at an exponentially faster rate than previous technological advances like the personal computer. In the UK, around 70% of primary and secondary schools use tablet computers, and almost 10% have an individual tablet for every pupil. Around the world, several countries have introduced individual tablets for every pupil at every school. Statistics like these are rising all the time with more and more schools and colleges introducing tablets in one way or another.

Benefit of tablets

To see why tablets are enjoying such a meteoric rise in education, we need only look at the academic research which has been undertaken on their use and the many benefits identified, eg iPad Scotland Evaluation. A University of Cambridge study provides evidence that they help to motivate pupils who might otherwise be disengaged.

A separate study from the National Literacy Trust and Pearson suggests that tablets are particularly useful in helping students from deprived backgrounds improve their literacy skills more effectively than other traditional methods.

Several studies, including one from Bond University in Australia, have shown that using tablet computers increases student motivation in class and lectures. A large number of the studies from institutions such as MIT, the University of Hong Kong and the University of the West of Scotland have also shown that the use of tablets supports student learning and performance, as well as improving computer literacy skills. Even more significant benefits have been shown in studies which focus on the impact of tablets for students with learning difficulties or additional support needs (see University of Madrid study).

These benefits, and more, are driving the expansion of the tablet in education. At Ayrshire College, the Learning Technologies team looks forward to supporting our students and staff with the use of this powerful educational tool.

If you want to find out more, check out this literature review on the use of tablets in education.


On a mission to get more girls and women into computing

Jackie Galbraith is Vice Principal for Strategy, Planning and Performance at Ayrshire College. She started her career in computing in 1988 as a programmer in the manufacturing industry. Here, she reflects on this week’s activity around International Girls in ICT Day.

Spotlight on women in computing

Ayrshire College is on a mission to challenge gender stereotypes in career and learning choices!

We take every opportunity to encourage females into male-dominated subjects and they don’t come much more male-dominated than computing! For example, each year we run a week-long campaign around Girls in ICT Day to promote and encourage women in and into computing. This year, throughout the week we heard from women who have forged a career in computing – in industry from Maggie Morrison, Caroline Stuart and Jean McInnes; and in education from Loraine Johnston and Lynsey O’Connor. Maggie, Caroline and Jean highlighted the variety of jobs they have had throughout their careers in computing and the many benefits they have experienced like travel, high salaries and flexibility. We also showcased women at the start of their careers in ICT – 19 year old apprentice Lisa Watson, as well as Ayrshire College mature students Jean Anderson and Carol Maguire, who talked about the life-changing possibilities offered by a career in ICT.

Throughout my technical career, I was completely unaware that women had played pioneering roles in the history of computing. When I was doing my degree in the 1980s, I was introduced to programming languages like Ada and Cobol but had no idea of their association with female computing pioneers! Our first blog post this week introduced readers to Ada Lovelace and Grace Hopper, a couple of the forgotten women in computing. In her blog post, Dr Hannah Dee reminded us that until the 1970s computing attracted equal numbers of men and women.

It was good to see media coverage during the week about a forthcoming comic book about Ada Lovelace by graphic artist and illustrator Sydney Padua. Padua uses her humour and art to demonstrate the extraordinary contribution of a young woman born 200 years ago, long before the first computer was invented! Find out more at It was also good to learn about another connection between art and computing with 22 year old fashion model Karlie Kloss who aspires to be a computer programmer. Listen to Karlie here

Coding for girls

Hannah Dee, Maggie Morrison and Caroline Stuart all talked in their blog posts about the declining numbers of women who choose to study or work in computing. Hannah described some of the activity taking place across the UK with schools to stimulate and maintain interest in computing amongst young people, particularly girls. CoderDojo is part of a global network of free computer coding clubs for young people. With no coding experience necessary, the club aims to promote computer science and technology in a fun, thought-provoking and inspiring way, encouraging young people to consider studying computing and recognise the rewarding opportunities available in the rapidly expanding ICT industry. Building on a strong partnership with CoderDojo Scotland, Ayrshire College hosted two all-girls computer coding clubs this week. One was an after-school club for first year pupils (12 year olds) at Irvine Royal Academy; the other took place at the college with primary school girls. Here’s what some of the girls had to say:

13 year old Irvine Royal Academy pupil, Carmen Wilson said “I was never really into computing before, but the CoderDojo club made it fun and interesting.”

8 year old Mia Hay from Dunlop said “I loved it, it was really cool. I want to come back!”

There is no doubt that there is real enthusiasm and interest amongst girls at an early age – we need to tap into that enthusiasm and find ways of translating that interest into more girls choosing computing subjects at school, college and university. However, there are some obstacles to overcome.


Look out for unconscious bias

In his blog post, Colin Crook talked about unconscious bias and the risks of unintentionally reinforcing negative stereotypes about men and women in computing. In the week that Microsoft pledged its support to the CoderDojo Foundation as part of its YouthSpark initiative, it was disappointing that a well-intentioned video used to promote coding clubs reinforced the male stereotype associated with computing ( Of the 25 people interviewed in this video – young people, teachers, technologists and politicians – only 3 were female! This unconscious bias perpetuates the myth that ‘computing’s not for me’.

Converting initiatives into systemic change

I started in computing nearly 30 years ago at a time when women had started to abandon computing. In the three decades since then there have been waves of initiatives to attract girls and women into IT – thousands of well-meaning initiatives, yet the proportion of women in computing is at its lowest level since the 1970s. If we really want to tackle the lack of girls and women in STEM, we need to focus on systemic, cultural change that builds on the many good initiatives. This is the approach Ayrshire College plans to take.

Watch this space!


Spotlight on women in computing – Carol Maguire

 After 21 years in the same job, Carol Maguire decided to shake up her career. Having always had an interest in ICT, she came to Ayrshire College to complete an HND Web Development and Interactive Media. Read about how she made her career in IT happen.

What did you do before going to College?

I worked full time with the council as a Clerical Assistant for 21 years.

How did you get into ICT?

I really wanted to learn more about ICT, so I took the leap and handed my notice in! I’ve learnt so much since coming to college. Everything from how websites are created, learning java scripts, project management and how to build an e-business.

What challenges have you faced, and how did you overcome them?

During the course, I volunteered to write a blog at Working Digital 2014, Ayrshire’s biggest technology and social media conference which attracts industry leaders from all over Scotland.

Having worked in administration before coming to college, my note-taking and typing skills were invaluable in my role as blogger! Networking with the speakers gave me lots of ideas and I’m more enthusiastic than ever about my future career in the digital sector! This blog is available at

Describe your job on a day to day basis.

I now work part time as Website Content and Social Media Co-ordinator at the Scottish Maritime Museum. I create, edit and update content within the company’s website. I also use Facebook and Twitter to promote and market their presence on social media.

What advice would you give to others interested in a career in ICT?

Going to college has given me confidence and reignited my love of learning. I’d thoroughly recommend it, no matter what age you are! I’ve been accepted to the University of the West of Scotland to complete my IT degree in one year, and to continue my work with the Scottish Maritime Museum is fantastic!