Kerri has been a single parent to her daughter, Ellie, for almost eight years. After time on income support following redundancy, and struggling to find the part-time job she needed, Kerri decided to retrain and become a science teacher. She is now one year away from qualifying and shares what her journey’s been like.
The worst time
Ellie was ten months old when, after repeated affairs, I asked my now ex-husband to leave. After a couple of months sleeping in the spare room he left, emptying our bank account as he went. I’d been made redundant from the bank where I’d worked for six years just a few months earlier, so it was a horrendous time.
I couldn’t afford to keep the family house we’d been renting, but through family friends I found a place that housing benefit would cover. I was incredibly grateful for the money, but was shocked at some of the places that had been suggested by the council. One had mould along the walls and condensation dripping down the windows.
Before my husband left I’d been looking to get a part-time job – I enjoy work and being a stay at home mum wasn’t for me. I’d applied for lots of part-time jobs, ones I was qualified for, and hadn’t got so much as an interview. When my marriage ended I began to claim income support, but kept looking for work.
I’d been volunteering at a local museum since the age of 17 and always managed to do at least one day a week – even when I worked for the bank. I’d gained numerous qualifications with them and in 2007 I was offered a two year, 30 hours a week paid job as their Education Officer.
Hitting two birds with one stone
As the contract came to an end I realised two things: that I really l loved working in education and that the provision of holiday care in my town for children was practically non-existent. I considered going to university, but was concerned that I might not like formal education as much as the more holistic approach museums take, so to hit two birds with one stone and applied for a position in a local secondary school as a cover supervisor. This way I wouldn’t have to worry about childcare in the school holidays and I could see if working in schools was for me.
I loved working in the secondary school, and was often asked to cover science lessons as that was my ‘thing’. I was even asked to teach a lesson by a science teacher as a favour. I then decided to retrain as a teacher.
I’ve just completed the third year of my four year teaching qualification to become a science teacher. I’m training as an undergraduate, so when I qualify I’ll have a science education degree and Qualified Teacher Status.
Financially it’s been interesting! The biggest change was going from a regular, monthly salary to Student Finance that’s paid in large chunks, three times a year.I also get full housing benefit, as most of the student finance isn’t counted as income. I’m really, really grateful for this. I’m exempt from council tax too-and this isn’t affected by the recent changes.
I can’t afford to drive so I’ve had to pester my university to send me on placements in schools that are nearby. I get a grant for childcare through student finance. It covers 85 per cent of my childcare cost, and they’re only £50 a week. Other than the Student Finance I’ll owe, I haven’t racked up any other debt. I don’t even have a student bank account with the usually thousands of pounds overdraft.
Childcare is an issue, though. Ellie’s wraparound childcare doesn’t start until 8am and that’s when I have to arrive at my placements. It’s the same when I’m at university – I have to leave Ellie with a friend, who’ll later drop her off at childcare. I rely on someone else to fill the childcare gaps.
The summers are hard. I had to sign on to jobseeker’s allowance last summer. It was ridiculous. They know that there’s no half term childcare in our town but I still had to apply for jobs I knew I wouldn’t be able to do because there’d be no one to take care of Ellie.
Pride and understanding
Sometimes when I’ve got a big assignment due, Ellie will say: “You’re always working!” but that’s just for those times when I’m really busy. She sometimes comes to university with me during half terms because I can’t get childcare. There isn’t really any in our town for the holidays.
Lecturers are happy for her to sit in and there’s another single mum in my class whose daughter sometimes comes in. The schools where I’ve done placements have been really understanding too, letting me leave at a reasonable time.
Ellie’s really proud of me. She knows what a First is, so when I tell her that I’ve got 70 per cent, she’ll know that’s a First.