Claire O'Brien standing on walkway in front of lake near Faculty of Education

Claire O’Brien on her graduation

Learning through an Edge Hill University course was just the boost Claire O’Brien needed to pursue her chosen career.

Claire with former Chancellor Prof Tanya Byron

Claire with former Chancellor Prof Tanya Byron

After attending an open day in the mid-2000s, Claire was inspired to undertake and complete a Fastforward course, going on to gain a first-class honours degree in Early Childhood Studies in 2010.

“The course wasn’t online at the time and ran once a week of an evening over a period of several months”, Claire reveals. “It was a good way of pacing myself to reach my goal of accessing higher education rather than a more intensive approach through Fastrack.”

“Claire had been suffering from ME and had endured a rough few years heath-wise, but her determination and commitment were evident,” recalls Ann Kennedy, Senior Access, Advice and Guidance Officer for Fastrack.

Looking back on that period of her life, Claire is grateful for the support she received, and how the University helped her flourish in an educational setting.

Claire photographed on a bridge with green plants around her

“I felt I had never had the opportunity to reach my full potential academically because of my ill health”, Claire said. “After attending an open day at Edge Hill, I felt sure I would be supported in managing my ongoing health problems alongside studying.

“Through Fastforward I met several other people who were due to start similar degrees, a positive in some of the shared lectures that first week at university!

“Having lost confidence academically, it was a huge compliment to be asked if my work could be used as an example for future students.”

Claire is now self-employed as a play therapist in Dorset, having gained a wealth of experience working with children and young people in the North West, as well as delivering careers talks and advice in colleges, and guest lecturing in universities.

“The course set me on the road to higher education and I soon discovered an academic ability I didn’t know I had – achieving an academic achievement scholarship at the end of my first year and the Hazel Richardson Study Prize at graduation.”

Claire went on to gain further qualifications, gaining PGDip with Distinctions in Developmental and Therapeutic Play, and Play and Creative Arts Therapy.

“I work in private practice and schools, providing adoption therapies, and working for a Dorset-wide child bereavement charity, Mosaic”, she said.

“I continue to manage my ME and am much better than I was. I am due to complete training this summer to become a Clinical Supervisor for other therapists and professionals working with vulnerable children and young people.

“Prior to my relocation I returned to Edge Hill over several years to deliver guest lectures to Early Years, and Early Childhood Studies students, hopefully to inspire the next generation of Play Therapists. The University will always have a very special place in my heart.”

Fastrack, which this month celebrates its 21st anniversary, offers adults the chance to gain the skills, understanding and confidence required for degree level, with training offered in essential study skills. The seven-week course is ideal for people who are looking to enter higher education but are not currently studying towards – or do not hold – the relevant Level 3 entry requirements.

To find out more about the Fastrack scheme, or to apply for the programme in 2020, see: