In this interview we talk to Rachael Page, a Community Skills student at Fife College’s ASPIRE Centre (Additional Support Programmes In Real Environments). She is a strong advocate for students with disabilities, has been a course rep, and recently undertook a work placement with Fife College Students’ Association (FCSA).
1. When we first met you three years ago, our colleague Morven Stewart was delivering training to course reps in supported education. What attracted you to the role of course rep in the first place?
Because I really enjoyed helping other students and it’s important that everyone has a voice. I’m quite a confident person and like to make sure that everyone is looked after.
2. What did you do as course rep? How easy was it to make changes in the learning experience?
You’re going back a few years now! It’s more about being the voice for other students. So for example if a student had an issue in the ASPIRE centre, not that they did very often, they would be able to bring it to me to resolve it.
As I have access needs I was able to raise issues where it was not always possible to access areas of the campus, which is important not just for me but also for future students. Because I have to use a wheelchair sometimes I see things differently than others.
If I’m being quite honest my fellow students never really had many issues to raise however I felt that having myself as a Rep built their confidence that they could raise issues when necessary and the staff were always very helpful.
3. You recently completed a work placement with the students’ association at the college. Tell us about that. What did you do, and what did you learn from the placement?
I worked with the FCSA for two hours every week. In this time I helped out with a number of admin tasks – including offering advice on merchandise and other projects.
I also accompanied the Student Engagement Assistant and gathered the students from ASPIRE’s views on different subjects, including feedback on learning, the campus and what they would like to see at FCSA events, including Freshers.
When the new Principal was appointed I created a list of questions that the ASPIRE students would like to know. I then passed these on to the FCSA staff who interviewed the Principal on my behalf and I then relayed the interview to my fellow students.
I also helped to set up a disability awareness week and an access questionnaire, and volunteered at the LGBT event and encouraged my fellow students to come into the refectory to take part in other FCSA events.
I learnt it doesn’t matter what way you are, you can still be part of the students’ association and I really liked that I was able to help and encourage other students to be involved. I also learned how to organise events, and I would like to continue to do this in the future. This really built my confidence and I would recommend this to other students as it’s a good atmosphere to learn in.
I really enjoyed my time and I do miss my placement but I am loving my new course!
4. A big part of our work across Scotland is ensuring that students from diverse backgrounds can all equally play a role in shaping the quality of their learning. What would be your top tips on ensuring that disabled students can be fully involved?
I would say you’ve got to have a voice to begin with, there’s no point in being dead quiet and being stuck in a corner. I would say they should approach their students’ association to discuss how they could get involved. The students’ association was a great place to get involved because I was supported and felt safe to be myself.
I think organisations could offer taster sessions so students would know what was expected of them. Not throwing them in at the deep end as not everyone has the confidence like me, and it’s quite a big thing to get involved with. Everyone deals with their disabilities in their own way and it’s not that everyone will approach things the way I do. I think knowing that you’ve got support, even if you are having to say things aren’t going well, makes a big difference as you’re not as worried about raising things.
Thanks to Rachael for being an interviewee. To suggest a future subject for interview, please contact us.
This interview is part of a series of occasional interviews on our website with student engagement practitioners – both staff and students, and from within Scotland’s university and college sector and beyond. The interviews aim to capture the different perspectives that people have on student engagement in the quality of learning.