From Step Up to BA Hons English and Creative Writing to published short stories. Jessica’s blog

It was 21st April 2016, and that was that. I stood outside Cadman library having just handed in my final year project (a 10,000 word novella called Strangers), and felt a sense of pride almost equal to the day my daughter was born.

My journey began on the 22nd April 2013. I was 25 years old and fed up of companies telling me, “I’m sorry, we are going to have to let you go, we just can’t afford to keep you”. This, as well as prospective employers only wanting graduates, was when I made the decision to go to university. It wasn’t a new idea, I had been toying with it for years. The should I, shouldn’t I dance was performed in my living room almost on a weekly basis and I think everyone was tired of me saying I would, but not. After browsing the Staffordshire University website, I found the Step Up course, and it was perfect. A 10-week programme, that would give the education skills I was lacking having attempted (and failed) half a year of college almost a decade before hand. Generally, I achieved good grades in high school, and achieved reasonable results in my GCSE’s. But the sixteen-year-old me was a master of her own destiny, and obviously knew what was best for her so she drifted in and out of jobs and eventually being a mother took precedence.

On that fateful Monday, I put my big girl pants on, and attended my first Step Up lecture. Afterwards, my head was spinning. I didn’t know which way was up, or indeed if I could actually continue with my intended route. But with my sheer pig-headed determination, I pushed through the nagging feeling that I was going to fail, and I passed. As the weeks wore on, I got more confident in what I was doing. Lectures on research skills, gave way to Harvard referencing, the difference between a subjective and an objective opinion, and how to navigate Summon and RefZone. All these things, along with the fantastic support of all the Step-Up team (especially Rachel, who is phenomenal at what she does. Thank you very much for helping me with my dreaded UCAS application and my personal statement!), and also a few Student Ambassadors, made me feel that the sky wasn’t the limit at all. My only limit, was the amount I pushed myself.

About half way through Step Up I was given a conditional offer on Staffordshire University’s BA English and Creative Writing course. Even though said degree is predominantly writing creatively (in the way of short stories, poems, non-fictional writing such as reviews, blogs and a magazine, and even an artists portfolio), I almost got through it WITHOUT having to write an essay, the transferable skills I had learned on the Step Up course ensured that I hit the ground running, and didn’t fall flat on my face within my first year. My confidence only grew with each assignment I submitted, and I was able to critically analyse set texts, and take on board and understand writer’s techniques that resulted in an 80% in one module. Thanks to Step Up I had started to create a logical and linear thought process that I had been lacking, due to my personality disorder and mental health issues.

I won’t lie to you, juggling university and Motherhood/Partnerhood, has been tough too. But luckily for me, my daughter is absolutely fantastic. Lydia was even been able to attend a few lectures with me when she’s been poorly, or when those dreaded inset days have reared their head. Seriously, the lecturers are THAT understanding! I think my journey has also, in part, been for her. It was always essential for me to lead by example and let Lydia see what can be achieved. Seeing her Mum at university has inspired her to become a marine biologist, just like her idol, Sylvia Earle (can I just say that she does a really good impression of David Attenborough too, if you give her 50p).

I graduated in July 2016 (something that I never thought I would do), at the same time I was awarded one of two highly commended writer prize in the Stoke-on-Trent literary festival, and in September of the same year I had my very first short story published, and then another in 2017 (*cough cough, both anthologies available on Amazon or from Immanion Press, cough*). I would like to take this opportunity to say that you can too. If you are thinking about it, take the plunge. The Step Up course opened the door to a world that is so far removed from what I was used to in my brief stint at college  and in high school. University has a more relaxed paced (which suits those of us whose spirit animal is a koala). It does get a little hectic come deadline day, but if you remember that organisation is the key to success, you’ll be fine. If you think you’re too old for it, you’re really not. If you need that bit of extra support, no matter why, it is always just an email, a phone call, or a discreet conversation away. It may sound a little cliché, but if I can do it, anyone can.


For more details on how to apply for the next intake of Step Up to HE follow the link:

Ashley Cotton Step Up to HE Award Leader

Step Up to PhD level study: Steven’s blog

In March 2010, I entered a rehabilitation facility to tackle an addiction problem that had begun when I was 14 years old. As my recovery journey progressed I became determined to replace my addiction with something far more positive, and in January 2011 I began evening classes on a counselling course, and attended the Step-Up to HE course at Staffordshire University. This course gave me a thirst for knowledge and learning, as well as an inner confidence that I could attend and achieve at university-level education.

In September 2011, I began a Sociology-based course entitled Crime, Deviance and Society (BA) and graduated with a 2:1 (with honours). I then searched for an appropriate Masters course which reflected my research thoughts and ideas, and in September 2016 began an MSc in Public Health (Addictions) at Liverpool John Moores University. At the same time, I joined New Beginnings, a group of voluntary, former service-users that work with individuals in a detoxification unit based at the Harplands Hospital. I now also hold positions on the Service User and Carers Council, the Research and Development Steering Group, and the Directorate for Substance Misuse within the North Staffordshire Combined Healthcare Trust, as well as having an involvement with the City of Culture 2021 bid.

As part of my Masters course, I wrote a paper linking the Theories of Addiction to serial killing, which won an award for innovation and led to funding enabling me to go to the USA for a week to do field work and research. This was in May of this year, and included developing a network with professors at Yale University in New Haven, Southern Connecticut State University, and a few days field work in New York. The experience and networks I developed there are invaluable, and are helping me to be at the forefront of developing a peer mentoring and peer coaching scheme as part of my role at New Beginnings, as well as being part of a project within the NHS Trust to set up a ‘Recovery College’ in the Stoke and North Staffordshire area.

I am currently working on my dissertation, which centres around a Social Evaluation of the Importance of Peer Support in Recovery, and have a clear idea of research I wish to undertake at PhD level. I have an appointment in January at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia with a senior professor who is offering the professional expertise, resources and finances to assist with my research, and I am in talks trying to gain similar support in the UK. It is also possible to work with the networks I established in the USA, so I am hoping to be in a position where I can choose and dictate my own research based upon the best and most appropriate offer I receive.

Life is busy and full, the future holds optimism and excitement, and after battling addiction, the basis for this all began at Step-Up, which opened all the opportunities that followed. I owe an awful lot to Rose Taylor and the team that ran Step-Up back then; not only has it taken me on this educational and professional journey, it is also where I met the woman who became my wife!

For more details on how to apply for the next intake of Step Up to HE follow the link:

Ashley Cotton Step Up to HE Award Leader

Step Up student blogs: Dan

 1)    What motivated you to apply for Step Up?

I was encouraged to apply for Step Up after a friend recommended the course after expressing my interest in wanting to return to education. From a very young age I had always wanted to become a paramedic; therefore I applied to complete Step Up as a way of brushing up on my academic ability after being out of education for a number of years. After applying I then attended an interview with Ashley, who then advised me that I would need to complete and achieve my Level 2’s in English and maths in order to meet the entry requirements for FdSc Paramedic Science. I was then pointed in the direction of the Adult and Community Learning team at Stoke-on-Trent City Council, which the Step Up to HE programme has a partnership with. I embarked on my Level 2’s in English and maths free of charge whilst still working and fitting in full-time employment. After receiving a conditional offer from the university to progress on to Step Up, I was then completely motivated to make my ambition of becoming a paramedic a reality.

2)    How did you feel on the first day?

I was both nervous and excited. I didn’t know what to expect about the course and initially doubted my ability to do well. The ice breakers on the first day helped me relax and to get to know my fellow course students. The teaching team and their warm and professional approach made me feel increasingly at ease and this only grew throughout the course.

3)    How did you find the teaching and support here at Staffordshire University in comparison to past education experience?

In terms of comparing my past education experiences to Step Up, I found the course a lot more enjoyable as the mature and supportive environment alongside the end goal kept me driven and motivated to succeed. In addition to the academic workshops and lectures, Ashley sat down with me during our 1-2-1 tutorials and helped me with my interview techniques, which in turn improved my confidence and ability to answer the specific paramedic related questions that I would then be potentially asked at my interview later on in the year. For my last mock interview, I was taken to the Blackhealth Lane Centre of Healthcare Excellence, where the healthcare courses are based at Staffordshire University. The Step Up team had organised for me to be interviewed by 2nd year paramedic students sitting in interview conditions. I found the experience initially daunting, however it improved my confidence greatly, and being able to ask questions and receive feedback by current paramedic science students was invaluable in preparing me for the real thing.

4)    Has Step Up helped you anyway, if so, what?

As someone who is largely practical, completing Step Up has increased my confidence to do well in education as a result of the range of learning styles delivered on the course. In addition to this, the course, guidance and confidence building has given me the insight to really understand my own abilities and strengths. Conversely, I have also been able to now highlight any weaknesses or elements that I need to improve; which in turn has made me proactive in constantly seeking to improve and develop my skills for the future and embarking on to degree level study. I think this is a quality that is extremely important whilst working for the Ambulance Service and in the NHS.

5)    What are your hopes and plans for the future?

After completing the FdSc Paramedic Science course, I hope to then move on to a third year in order to gain the BSc Hons Paramedic Science. After that, alongside the work experience I have amassed to date in an ambulance service remit, I hope to then apply for West Midlands Ambulance Service to become a qualified paramedic. Alongside work, I am already thinking about further study and hopefully completing a Masters and potentially even a PhD. I am very keen to progress within the Ambulance Service and hopefully gain a more strategic role in the future.

For more details on how to apply for the next intake of Step Up to HE follow the link:

Ashley Cotton Step Up to HE Award Leader

Step Up student blogs: Justyna

1)      What motivated you to apply for Step Up?

My decision to undertake Step Up to HE and the higher education route was well thought and considered. Over the last several years, I tried to use my skills in the workplace to obtain a position in lower management within a human resources remit. My natural organisational skills as well as working discipline were helpful; but my progress was slow due to my lack of education.  As much as my skills were valued and recognised, I was at a disadvantage compared to other members of staff who could support their job applications with various forms of diplomas and degrees. As a result, I then started to look for ways to enrich my working prospects and finally took the plunge so I could gain a position I would enjoy and excel in. The Step Up option then came in the form of advice during a meeting with a Staffordshire University International Officer; who then guided and supported me in making an application for the course.

2)      How did you feel on the first day?

My first day was accompanied with mixed feelings, excitement from starting a new journey, anxiety and a dash of apprehension. After having a long break from education, I was apprehensive as to what I should expect. After meeting my tutors and other co-students on the first day, all my apprehensions lifted and I felt most of all ready for the new and exciting challenges ahead. 

3)      How did you find the teaching and support here at Staffordshire University in comparison to past education experience?

The tutors were supportive, helpful and aware of individualistic student needs; especially after my long gap in education. In addition to this, the tutors and teaching staff helped tremendously in improving my academic writing skills and my confidence in writing owing to the fact that English is my second language.  For example, the concept of the academic writing was new to me and the tutors were willing to provide an insight into the potential flaws that I was making. This in turn improved my language as well as mu confidence in my writing potential.

4)      Has Step Up helped you anyway, if so, what?

I found the Step Up route particularly helpful in providing me with a firm understanding of the rigours of degree level qualification whilst also providing me with a taste of what university life as a mature learner will be like.  On top of this, I have noticed a great boost in my critical thinking skills as well my confidence in my own abilities throughout working in and leading teams within my job too.    

5)      What are your hopes and plans for the future?

For now, my hopes and plans revolve around starting and completing the BA (Hons) Business Management and Human Resources degree at Staffordshire University, which starts this September. Looking further in to the future, I hope to then proceed onto the Masters in Human Resource Management as my end goal is to become a specialist and obtain a position within HR or other managerial roles in possible one of the UK’s leading companies. 

For more details on how to apply for the next intake of Step Up to HE follow the link:

Ashley Cotton Step Up to HE Award Leader

Are you a Step Up student ready for September?

As the year is flying by, I thought it would be only good and proper to give you guys an outline as to what you need to be thinking about now for when you start your undergraduate degrees with us this September.

So, what’s next?


1.    Student Finance England application to be completed by mid July at the very latest;

2.    Firmly accept your place on your undergraduate degree via UCAS by accessing UCAS Track at:

3.    Attend the Awards Evening on Thursday 27th July 2017 to receive your certificate and celebrate your success with co-students, food and drink with us all departing to the Terrace Bar on Leek Road to carry on with the evening afterwards. You can book your tickets easily at:


Once September 2017 hits, you will need to start thinking about enrolling on to your undergraduate degree. This process is somewhat similar to the enrolment process you went through for Step Up and started via your E-Vision Applicant Portal however, this is also when your Student Finance allocation will be released in to your bank account. It is really really important to do this so that you are classed as a full-time student and so that you recieve all the details about your chosen course. Further details on how to do this can be found at:

However, please do not feel stuck or struggle with anything. A whole team of us will be on hand on the Awards Evening if you have any questions. And as ever, if you need any help at all then please feel free to contact me.  

Best wishes,

Ashley Cotton Step Up to HE Award Leader

Step Up student blogs: Helen

On January 5th 2017, I received an email thanking me for applying for the Step Up to Higher Education course at Staffordshire University. I could not contain my excitement. I thought to myself that ‘I am actually going through with this’. The following day, I excitedly thanked a friend of mine for the push in the right direction and the motivation to go forward with my ambitions in getting to University.

Before applying, I had heard several inspiring stories regarding the Step Up course and for this reason; my enthusiasm was in full swing. By the time my first day arrived, my stomach was flipping. I was about to make a huge step forward toward a goal that seemed out of reach. Goals that I had only ever dreamt about since I had left school, many moons ago. My children have left home and it was time to do something for me and something I could relish and enjoy.   

On the first day, I arrived at the Science Centre on Leek Road with legs like jelly. Ashley welcomed me and I slowly began to relax because of the smooth and friendly interview he gave me on the previous week – he promised me that I would be looked after and I was. After meeting the tutors, other adult learners and dream chasers the first week flew by. My anxiety of becoming a newbie was lessening more and more.

The tutors on Step Up and the handy note taker were very professional. I knew what topic was to be delivered on the morning and afternoon sessions, all due to their first class deliverance. They sought to complete their job in a fashion that suited each learner. Individuals that did not understand something felt at ease to say so. The atmosphere was relaxed, rewarding and very enjoyable. A completely contrary and positive experience to education I had come across in the past.

Step Up to HE as a course has had such a positive impact on me. I feared school as a child, because I was seen as just a pupil going through a ‘phase in life’. Yet in comparison, Staffordshire University has a great support network that has been put into place. Individuals with learning disabilities, like myself, can seek help from the Student Enabling Centre as soon as the teaching process begins. Every staff member that I have met had a keen interest in my wellbeing. I felt my confidence grow as the weeks turned into the first month. I knew from here that all the self-doubt I had on the first day was a waste of energy and as a result, all my energy has gone into producing my assignments to the best standard possible.

I have developed many of the essential skills needed for my future degree such as an academic style of writing, preparation for lectures and how to obtain information amongst developing the confidence to promote a critical thinking approach towards my work.

Before I started Step Up, I was just plodding through life with what I knew with no new challenges. I got by, however a few months on I am now thriving and looking forward to the future. I feel as though I have been shown the door to the rest of my life and can see my future career ambition come ever closer. All staff involved within the Step Up to HE course have taught me professionally whilst also always having time to fully make it such a positive experience. My hopes and dreams of becoming and Early Years English tutor are on the horizons and in September I shall be starting the BA (Hons) Early Childhood Studies course with more confidence, know how, self-belief and a spring in my step.

I without a doubt encourage especially those who feel unsure about the next stage of getting to university to make that leap and at least try it for yourselves.


For more details on how to apply for the next intake of Step Up to HE follow the link:

Ashley Cotton Step Up to HE Award Leader

Step Up student blogs: John


  • What motivated you to apply for Step Up?

“I had wanted to complete a degree for a while but I did not know what to do or where to go about making this a reality. One of my main concerns of going to university was having the prior academic skills and knowledge in order to support me on a degree. However, after visiting Staffordshire University at one of their Open Day’s, I spoke to a representative who encouraged and helped me to apply. The rest as they say is history”.

  • How did you feel on the first day? 

“On my first day I felt enthusiastic but somewhat apprehensive about the amount of work involved on the course. However, after the first or second week this quickly disappeared and I had already started my first written assignment”.

How did you find the teaching and support here at Staffordshire in comparison to past educational experiences?

“The teaching and support from the whole Step Up team was first class. Even now after I have finished the course and studying on my degree the support is still there. Completing Step Up makes you part of a larger family and it is great to see other students around campus on their chosen courses”.

  • What are your hopes and plans for the future?

“I am already half way through my first year studying Motorsport Technology and I am looking forward to the prospect of a work experience placement I have sourced through the Careers Team at the university in Dubai. I am hoping to take all the opportunities available to me now I have made the transition to university to further support my future career in the motorsport industry”.

For more details on how to apply for the next intake of Step Up to HE follow the link:

Ashley Cotton Step Up to HE Award Leader

Step Up student blogs: Carly

  • dsc_2655What motivated you to apply for Step Up?

“I attended a jobs and skills fayre at the new One Smithfield centre in Hanley not entirely sure about where to go or what to do. It was then that I met Ashley who listened to my ambitions to go to University who then encouraged me that a degree would be achievable. On the same day we sat down and I applied for Step Up and then was invited for a really informal interview on campus”.

  • How did you feel on the first day? 

“On my first day I was full of nerves and excitement. I had been on maternity leave for 12 months and had not studied in years. This would be the start of an exciting journey for me!”.

  • How did you find the teaching and support here at Staffordshire in comparison to past educational experiences?

“The teaching and support staff have been fantastic. They have been really helpful and approachable. This has been a welcome change to past experiences and has really given me the confidence for when I progress on to my chosen degree. ”

  • Has Step Up helped you in anyway, if so, what?

“Completing the Step Up course has really helped me to develop the critical thinking and academic writing skills I need for when I start my degree in September 2017. I have found new confidence following my time on the programme which has really helped in eventually becoming a full-time student”

  • What are your hopes and plans for the future?

“I have already received a conditional offer for a place on the BA (Hons) Sociology, Crime and Deviance degree at Staffordshire University. Looking towards the future I hope to complete the degree and eventually complete my PGCE so I can pursue an exciting career in teaching”.

For more details on how to apply for the next intake of Step Up to HE follow the link:

Ashley Cotton Step Up to HE Award Leader

Step Up student blogs: Neil


  • What motivated you to apply for Step Up?

“I ultimately applied for Step Up as I had no idea about how to write in an academic manner. Step Up helped immensely in helping me to understand what studying at university level would be like and what to expect for when I progressed on to the BA (Hons) Social Welfare Law, Policy and Advice Practice at Staffordshire University”.

  • How did you find the teaching and support here at Staffordshire in comparison to past educational experiences?

“Step Up was just the ticket. The pace is just right and the support is perfect for students who have been out of educational for a while. Most notably the team understand the concerns many students have in terms of the big leap to university level study and how to break down these barriers”.

  • Has Step Up helped you in anyway, if so, what?

“Achieving the award has helped me to understand how to quote and reference correctly within an academic essay. I have found the jump from Step Up to my undergraduate degree manageable as a result of completing Step Up beforehand because of the skills I developed whilst on the course.

  • What are your hopes and plans for the future?

“Well, I am three assignments completed into my course and feeling good. Ultimately in the future I hope to progress on to a postgraduate course at Staffordshire University after completing my degree and then hopefully progressing in to a social welfare setting supporting the public through the complexities they may encounter within the system.”

For more details on how to apply for the next intake of Step Up to HE follow the link:

Ashley Cotton Step Up to HE Award Leader

Step Up student blogs: Nat

  • bursary-75-nat-campbellWhat motivated you to apply for Step Up?

“I was referred to the Step Up from the university enquiries team after wanting to get some information about finance when it came to university. I explained my circumstances and was recommended the Step Up course as a perfect starting point to getting into university and the degree I wanted to progress on to”.

  • How did you feel on the first day? 

“On my first day I was a tad apprehensive but that soon went after meeting all the tutors and drying off from the torrential rain that happened to appear on the first day!”.

  • How did you find the teaching and support here at Staffordshire in comparison to past educational experiences?

“The difference in comparison with my past educational experiences was huge. The teaching staff are very firm but fair in their approach to tutoring you on what is needed for university study as everything they did was in our best interests as students. Nothing was too much trouble on the course. ”

  • Has Step Up helped you in anyway, if so, what?

“Completing the Step Up course successfully has made me more aware of the need to write academically and objectively but also settled any worries about university life and how to cope with the workload. Half way through the course I had a mini crisis about how I would get on at university but got through the doubts I had with the right support from the team.”

  • What are your hopes and plans for the future?

“Step Up has made my lifetime ambition in going to university a reality. Since Step Up I have embraced university life to the fullest. I am now a university rep, a Student Ambassador and have created a new society at the university. As for the future, who knows? However, I have ambitions to work with young offenders in order to create positive role models and influencers for their futures”.

For more details on how to apply for the next intake of Step Up to HE follow the link:

Ashley Cotton Step Up to HE Award Leader