Mother of five scoops prestigious Learner of the Year Award

The ‘Learner of the Year’ category in our Aspiration Awards honours learners who are developing themselves through vocational qualifications from NCFE or CACHE, making positive improvements to their lives. This year’s winner, Aisha Aslam, is a dedicated mother of five young children who has rediscovered her love of learning as an adult and between her other responsibilities, has found the time to complete a CACHE Level 2 Award in Support Work in Schools and Colleges, and a Certificate in Supporting Teaching and Learning to support her in her pursuit of a new career as a Teaching Assistant.

Managing the work/life balance

A university graduate with a degree in Forensic Science, Aisha worked as a research and development scientist for a large pharmaceuticals company straight out of education.

Married young, Aisha continued to work full-time, juggling her responsibilities as a wife and new mother until she fell pregnant with her third child. At this point, she was forced to give up working altogether to devote her time to raising her family.

The turning point

When Aisha fell pregnant for a fourth time shortly after the birth of her son, she became extremely ill and spent a number of weeks in hospital. The recovery process took Aisha over 6 months.

“Going through what I did when I had my fourth child was definitely what gave me the drive to turn my life around again. I had given so much to my family, I wanted to do something for myself,” Aisha said.

Through her children’s school, Aisha joined the Women’s CHAI Project, a community scheme for parents that offers bespoke projects that educate, empower, and develop women. The CHAI Project promotes health and wellbeing and also signposts women to services within Oldham where they can access support if they need it with issues like domestic abuse and mental health. Inspired by the projects she did with the CHAI project and women she met at the group, Aisha decided that she would take the plunge back into education after a 12 year hiatus in a bid to get herself back into employment.

“After 7 years out of employment, trying to then gain the skills to get back into employment was scary,” Aisha continued.

“The Women’s CHAI Project was so supportive though and it was through them that I was introduced to Oldham Lifelong Learning. They really gave me the confidence I needed to take that first step.”

Rediscovering her love for learning

Aisha initially enrolled on the CACHE Level 2 Award in Support Work in Schools and Colleges to develop her understanding of the role of a Teaching Assistant and to see if this was the path she wanted to go down. However, Aisha immediately immersed herself in the learning environment and took on additional studies to support her progress into employment. She even began volunteering in her children’s school as she wanted to develop her practical skills in a real working environment.

“In the work I was doing before (in research and development science), I’d leave the house at 7am in the morning and not get back until 7pm at night. That was manageable when I only had two children and I had my family’s support for childcare, but you just can’t ask a relative to look after five kids every day! It would be a big ask for anybody,” Aisha said.

“I knew that I wanted to go back to work but I needed to find something that I would enjoy first and foremost, but it also had to fit around the kids and as much as possible, the school holidays.

“I didn’t think I would enjoy working as a Teaching Assistant as much as I do. I loved the CACHE courses that I did, but when I started volunteering at my children’s school, it was just amazing, and I realised that this is what I wanted to do.”

Learning through lockdown

In September 2019, Aisha enrolled on the CACHE Level 2 Certificate in Supporting Teaching and Learning and has recently completed this qualification. Alongside this, Aisha used the period of lockdown to her advantage to complete a range of short courses online to help further develop her skillset whilst at the same time, home-schooling her five children.

“I figured that, if I’m stuck at home, I might as well carry on and make the most of the time I’ve got and do as many courses as I can,” Aisha commented.

“I’ve just recently joined a supply agency and I was waiting to be allocated work prior to the Coronavirus outbreak so I’m hoping that by the time the schools reopen, with all of the additional qualifications I now have, I should have enough to find myself a job.”

The world is her oyster

Looking to the future, Aisha would love to secure a role working in an early years environment, although she is open to exploring other avenues.

“I think I’m drawn to the early years because this is where I have the most experience, I have been volunteering in Reception and of course, my own children have gone through that early years stage, my oldest now is just about to go into year 8 and my youngest is in reception,” Aisha said.

“I always find that it’s easier to do something when you fully understand it and you can draw on your own experiences. I know what works for my kids and what helped them to learn, so I can apply this knowledge along with what I’ve learnt on my courses and take this into the classroom.

“As my kids get older and more independent, I would like to explore becoming a teacher, not just a TA as in order to do it, I would only need to do a one year PGCE because I already have my university degree.

“Being an actual teacher requires so much more commitment time-wise and with the amount of work you need to bring home, it just wouldn’t be possible for me to do it at the moment, but in a few more years when my kids are in high school perhaps, I might go for it, I’ll just see where the path goes!

“I’ve done so many courses now covering everything from children’s mental health, to autism and special educational needs, I wouldn’t mind going down a pastoral route as well to support children with social and emotional difficulties in a one-to-one capacity.”

Inspiring others

When Aisha received the call to let her know that she had been selected as this year’s Learner of the Year, she admits that she was completely shocked.

“I just couldn’t believe it,” she said.

“It’s so humbling to think that someone else thinks that what I’m doing is so good when to me, it’s just normal, I’m not anything special, I’m just doing what comes naturally to me.

“When you’ve got kids, you just get on with whatever’s thrown at you. It is hard to be a mum and stay at home, constantly putting your children’s needs first and feeling like you can’t do anything for yourself. I just hope that in winning this award, it might help to inspire other stay at home mums to think, hey if she’s got five kids and she can do it, why can’t I?”

Jill McCune, Curriculum Manager for Vocational, Care and Education at Oldham Lifelong Learning, commented:

“I’m absolutely thrilled for Aisha. Despite juggling a lot of responsibilities, since meeting Aisha, she has continually demonstrated her commitment to learning, her attendance and punctuality is excellent, and she is conscientious when it comes to completing her work, almost always submitting assignments weeks ahead of deadlines.

“As an Ofsted rated outstanding provider, we do have high expectations of our learners and we strive to help every learner achieve their goals, but Aisha has gone above and beyond even our highest standards.

 “She is always supportive to her peers and encourages them to enrol on additional courses to support their development. Aisha is a positive role model for her family and for members of her local community and is passionate about her role in supporting children in the school where she volunteers. Aisha is a passionate advocate for adult learning and, along with a friend she met on the course, has become the voice of Oldham Lifelong Learning Service in promoting our courses and supporting others to join, she’s almost like a member of staff!

 “Whatever Aisha puts her mind to, she achieves and I just hope that she gets the career that she so deserves.”

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