'Now I believe that I can achieve anything'

This is a story of high expectations in a middle-class family that a young woman says caused her to fail - until now.

After a year of mentoring with Lynne Williams of the Training Network, Barbara*, 22, is going to university in September following five years of repeatedly dropping out of the sixth-form and unsatisfactory shop work. If she graduates, it will be a personal triumph.

Barbara sees her mother, a teacher, and father, a city councillor and businessman, as the problem. They have high expectations of their five children. The other four have all progressed to university.

Barbara got a reasonable crop of GCSEs but then the problems started.

"I never knew what I wanted to do whereas my sisters and brothers did. I felt pressurised. I was 16 and hadn't got a clue. I felt like a failure."

Things came to a head one day in the lower sixth when a chance remark by a teacher made Barbara realise she was not as successful as she should have been.

"I just couldn't handle being in the classroom any more. The incident shattered me, knocked me sideways. Memories of it kept coming back to me so that I couldn't concentrate. I got behind with my work because I knew I wasn't going to succeed." Barbara realised that the teacher meant no harm and gradually began to see her problems lay at home.

"My dad's always busy. My mum never talks to me about anything unless it's education. She was only enthusiastic if I came home from school and said I was doing well."

Each September, her mother would take Barbara to a new college to enrol on A-level courses. Just as regularly, after a few months, she would drop out. When Barbara was offered mentoring under New Deal, she was surprised.

"Initially, I thought it was strange to be talking to someone but mentoring has changed my life. You come to understand why things affect you. I came to appreciate that that what affected me so much was this conditional love that my mum imposed."

Barbara has been working at a community centre and studying AS-level art part-time as a stepping stone to university. "Now, I believe that anything I do, I can do with confidence ... that I can achieve anything I pursue."

But she is not ready to tackle her parents about the bigger issues: "They don't see that there is a problem. "

* The name has been changed

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