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12 April 2021

Congratulations to the winners of this year’s Keith Fletcher Memorial Access to HE prizes


Katie Wand
PR, Media & Communications Officer, QAA

Today, the national Access to HE student prize was held in memory of Keith Fletcher, who worked for many years in the South West of England for successive Access Validating Agencies (AVAs) and was a great supporter of the Access to HE Diploma.


There were some excellent candidates, but the panel of judges could only choose two prize winners: one for outstanding commitment to study, and the other for outstanding academic achievement. We found out a little more about this year’s winners.


Outstanding Commitment to Study winner


Tanya O’Connor, Petroc College, Cambridge Access Validating Agency (CAVA)


Before taking the Access to HE Diploma, Tanya was working as an auxiliary nurse and barmaid in North Devon. Having considered primary school teaching for a number of years, but lacking the required qualifications to pursue it, Tanya decided to take the plunge and began her Diploma at Petroc College in 2019.


As a mother of five, Tanya followed a strict timetable to enable her to juggle family life with her studies: ‘I gave myself every Saturday night off and every Sunday to allow me to spend time with my children. I made the most of the library and did a lot of planning there. Even on days where my mind was blank, I made essay plans and wrote down rough ideas for how I wanted to approach an essay’.


Despite her busy schedule, Tanya thoroughly enjoyed the course and was impressed by the level of teaching standards and support offered by the College. She said: ‘The staff were always supportive and went above and beyond to make sure we understood what was required of us. I knew I could email them at any time and have a reply back if I needed further guidance’.


Tanya had thought that her lack of traditional qualifications would be a set-back when applying for universities, but this was not the case. Tanya was delighted to receive an offer from her first choice, the University of Plymouth, to study a Bachelor of Education with Qualified Teacher Status.


As part of her Access to HE course, Tanya spent six weeks in a primary school, giving her a feel for what her future teaching career might look like. Now a university student, Tanya’s dream of being a primary school teacher is becoming a reality.  


When asked about the value of the Access to HE Diploma, Tanya said that finishing the Diploma gave her a sense of achievement and belonging that helped her to rediscover her identity as someone other than just ‘mum’.


Against the odds, Tanya is set to graduate in 2023, with a Bachelor of Education specialising in English.


Outstanding Academic Achievement winner


Gavin McKay, Coleg Ceredigion, Agored Cymru


Before Access to HE, Gavin had been working as an Information, Communications and Technology (ICT) Manager at Aberaeron Comprehensive School in Ceredigion for 15 years. He had long considered retraining as a paramedic, but knew that due to his age he would be required to have an Access to HE Diploma to be considered on Swansea University’s Paramedic Science course. Gavin enrolled at Coleg Ceredigion in Aberystwyth in 2019 to study Access to HE in Health Science.


For Gavin, the Diploma was a gateway to his dream job, without which he would not have been able to study Paramedic Sciences.


Gavin is currently in his first year as a student of Paramedic Sciences at Swansea University, and hopes to become a registered Paramedic with the Health and Care Professions Council. Eventually, Gavin’s ambition is to be employed by the Welsh Ambulance Service Trust.

When asked about his experience of the Diploma, Gavin said: ‘In many ways, the Access to HE course exceeded my expectations - not only did it enable me to enter into higher education, but it also gave me skills that are critical to producing high quality work, such as research, time management and communication. I would recommend the Diploma to anyone who has been out of education for some years but who is considering a university degree’.


QAA congratulates this year’s winners and wishes all those enrolled in Access to HE courses good luck for the future.