Katharine Osborn is 34 and the mother of two boys under five. She continued a successful career in retail management and buying after her children arrived. But when she found it impossible to move south with the company, her job came to an end and she turned instead to the alternative, which she says had been at the back of her mind since she graduated.
"I always knew that if I taught at all it would be primary children. Even so, this was a bit of a leap in the dark. I found one of the local schools which was willing to help with teaching practice and this has worked very well. I have a wonderful mentor who I get on with very well. Having my own computer at home is also excellent. I was by no means a computer person, and my typing speed was very slow. I will be very sorry to lose the equipment, although it is a marvellous idea to pass it on to the schools.
"The course is very intense, and being in school is the hard bit. I am now looking for a job, although with such young children I am a bit reluctant to go full-time immediately. But I have no doubts about my new career."
Headteacher David Vickers has found having Katharine Osborn in his school a positive experience. "The course is different from conventional PGCE courses because we do not have a tutor here with the student. Success is very dependent on the relationship which is built up between the student and the mentor, who needs to be 100 per cent behind the training. But here that has worked very well, with Kathy being supervised and assessed by our key stage 1 co-ordinator. Kathy has been a very keen student and the OU has been very supportive and approachable. And of course the school benefits financially, we gain a computer, and an extra quality person in the classroom. The only people to suffer, I think, are postmen who have to deliver the OU parcels."
Grace Yesufu is 41 and was one of the first students to take the OU course in 1993. She came to this country in 1989 after a career as an English teacher in Nigeria, but her qualifications were not recognised by the DFEE. As an interim measure she gained an IT qualification and began working in computing, but she wanted to return to teaching. With four children to help support, however, she did not see a full-time course as an option. The OU course, she says, was ideal because it meant she could keep her job and study at the same time.
She did her teaching practice at Tile Hill Wood School, a girls' comprehensive in Coventry, where she now works full-time teaching English, IT and business studies. "I thought the course was well organised and I felt privileged to have a marvellous tutor I could really talk to.
"Most of the other students I came into contact with were also mature people with children, so that was very positive too. The computer conferencing was also a great help in preventing you from feeling isolated. You are not on your own. My mentor was impressed with the course. She felt it was very demanding and thorough."