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Being Part Time in Education

Updated: Jan 19, 2022

By Amber Carey-Daw

The image is an infographic with colourful blue and green rectangles in the background. In the foreground there is a photo of Amber, sat cross legged wearing a red top that says #millionsmissing. Below is the writing (in white) that says “Being part time in education, by Amber Carey-Daw” In the top righthand corner is the LUNA project logo and and the text (in black) “A LUNA project series on Education”. End of description. 

I originally became a part time student in April 2018, just three weeks before the start of my GCSE exams. It wasn't an easy decision to make, as many told me it would be detrimental to my exam results, something that as a perfectionist meant alot to me. But as my at the time undiagnosed Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (M.E.) got harder to manage it was something we knew was needed for me to successfully make it through the rest of the year and sit my exams.

The process of becoming part time wasn’t a particularly great experience. After a pretty nasty flare and a period of time off school we arranged a meeting with my head of year. We talked through clinic letters explaining my current situation and it was decided to reduce my timetable to part-time. At this point we were left without much guidance. The agreed timetable was made but no support was put in place to help me catch up with the lessons that I'd miss. So I'd miss a lesson and then be emailing teachers for the catch up work before the next class.

Don't get me wrong going part-time was a positive step in the sense that it allowed me to get a better handle on my health. It meant I could go into school for as long as my body could manage; a couple of hours at most and then spend the rest of the day resting.

It was really hard to be quite honest. Even though I was in the school building for less hours I was still expected to do the same amount of work, and sometimes this wasn't possible before the next class because of symptoms, so then I'd be going into a lesson having not done the work from the previous lesson and just feeling completely overwhelmed. In some respects I was lucky we were so close to GCSEs because there wasn't too much new content.

I got through my GCSEs arriving minutes before the exam began and leaving as soon as they finished. If I had two exams in one day I would sleep in a designated room between them, rather than going to extra revision classes with my peers.

Naively I kind of thought my still at the time undiagnosed M.E. would disappear by the time September came around and A-levels began. So I started sixth form full-time doing 3 A levels: Psychology, Sociology and Spanish. Obviously my M.E. didn’t disappear and attending full-time lasted a whole 3 days. I pushed my body way beyond its capabilities and the flare that came after those 3 days was enough of an indication to tell me it was time to start the process of becoming part time again.

The second time round it was easier, I'd stayed on at my secondary school for sixth form so they already were aware of the situation. And as in sixth form free periods were already built into the timetable I was able to start late or leave early if I didn't have a lesson. This made my studies easier to manage as I was able to rest more but wasn't missing any new content, unless of course I was too ill to make it in altogether or had medical appointments that clashed with my lessons which was quite a common occurrence.

A month into sixth form I got my official diagnosis of ME and as part of the management plan given to me by my specialist I was to cut back my timetable even further. This is when things started to get tricky, I was back in the same scenario as I was right before GCSEs only this time I was missing new content that I would have to catch up at a later date. Just because I wasn't in the classroom the work didn't disappear- I was still expected to complete all tasks.

As my health continued to decline I eventually had to drop my Spanish A Level altogether. I spent even less time in school. But it did mean that on a good week I was able to get in for all of the lessons for my two subjects. It was hoped that in the long run it would help me manage the exams as I wasn't catching up on content from missed lessons as often.

There are a lot of misconceptions about being part time. Many of my friends would comment that I was “lucky” to be allowed to stay at home all the time, but really it wasn't “lucky”. Firstly, I was missing out on valuable teaching time but I was also missing out on the full sixth form experience, isolated from my peers. Whilst my friends spent time together in free periods or walking to the shop to get study snacks at lunchtime, I was going home straight after my lessons to sleep. When I wasn’t at school I was either studying from my bed, attending hospital appointments or often too poorly to leave my bed altogether. Constantly fighting my body to keep up with my able-bodied peers and with my mind that held me to my own previous able-bodied standards.

I still stand by the decision that going part-time was the best thing for me. I never would have managed to complete my studies had I not made the decision. In the end because of Covid-19 I didn't end up sitting my A level exams, but I did come out with grades that enabled me to get into my first choice university. So it just goes to show that going part-time does not mean that you will fail despite what some people may say.

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