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York St John Alumni

Updates and stories from the Alumni team at York St John University

Mother and Mature Student in the ’70s

Raynor Nixon started her teacher training as a mature student at St John’s College in 1972. As a mother of two children, she was in a very different situation to her mostly 18-year-old fellow students. While many others were experiencing the freedom of studying away from home, she was organising school runs around her classes.

In the 1970s, and to this day, women often took on demanding care-giving roles. For married women, the continued support of their husbands and stability of their family situation was essential for their participation in education.

In 1972 Raynor was one of half a dozen married mature female entrants to St John’s College but the only one to finish the four years.

Four women relaxing in a student bedroom in the 1970s
Students relaxing in a St John’s College bedroom in the 1970s

Education interrupted

While Raynor had the support of her husband and children during her training, she didn’t always have that encouraging network. Raynor’s mother sadly passed away before she could complete her A levels, leaving her orphaned in the 1960s.

Raynor’s guardian at the time didn’t share her enthusiasm for formal education. She ended up at a technical college, feeling unfulfilled. Recognising her own ability and ambition, she decided to seek a different kind of career.

Raynor met her husband while working at the BBC. They later moved to York, where Raynor found work as a secretary at the university. She found the environment “new, inspiring and small.” She was amazed that she would often spend her lunchtimes sharing a table with leading professors.

After starting a family and running local playgroups, Raynor felt ready for her own educational challenge. She decided train to become a teacher at St John’s College.

Educational pioneers

“I wrote to them to ask, ‘Do you accept people like me, without qualifications?’ And they replied that they would, as long as I could pass the entrance examinations.”

Raynor says that she never thought of her pursuit of education as a female, married mature student as pioneering, “but in retrospect it probably was.”

Raynor also recognises St John’s pioneering approach to offering alternative routes into education. This is something the University is proud to continue to this day with both its contextual offer scheme and mature entry offer scheme, which aim to improve access to higher education.

Raynor benefited from a small grant: enough to cover the cost of some books for her course. She also had the bonus of willing test subjects at home – her two children aged 5 and 7 – who took part in many Wednesday afternoon art projects and science experiments.

Unwanted Teachers

However, finishing teacher training wasn’t the end of the story for Raynor. When she graduated, she entered a very tough employment climate. Primary schools were downsizing due to falling pupil numbers, leaving fewer teaching jobs.

As Raynor recalls, in June 1976 only 192 of the 461 teachers leaving the College of Ripon and York St John had job offers, far below the normal employment rate. Raynor was one of three graduating students featured in a Close Up North BBC television programme titled Unwanted Teachers.

A newspaper clipping describing the television programme titled Unwanted Teachers from 1976
The Yorkshire Evening Press feature for ‘Unwanted Teachers’

Raynor never got a full-time teaching job. She taught part-time until she was offered another post at the University of York, where she ended up running the Vice Chancellor’s office. Her family then relocated to Bristol and she became a governor of a local church school. 

But, as Raynor says, “Nothing you do is ever wasted.” She used her leadership skills for around 20 years as a governor, mostly as chair. She also ran governor training courses for Bristol, so her teaching education “was put to good use.”

Not stopping for retirement, Raynor and a friend set up the Chew Valley branch of the U3A. The branch is now twenty years old and “still flourishing.”

Head and shoulders portrait of Raynor Nixon

Words of advice

We asked Raynor for the wisdom she gained through her experiences as a mature learner and throughout her career:

“Just because things don’t necessarily work out the way you want straight away doesn’t mean that they won’t. I’m a great believer in second chances, and what you want at 18 isn’t necessarily what you will want at 25 or 30.”

And, above all, “Stay flexible!”

Inspired? York St John University has an outstanding record of supporting mature students to reach academic success. Our mature entry scheme recognises non-traditional entry qualifications and experience. We also offer a tailored induction day and a dedicated contact person for any extra support you require while you’re here.

Tell us your alumni story.

A typed letter to Raynor Nixon from the Principal congratulating her for her determination
Then-Principal, J. V. Barnett, wrote to Raynor in 1976 to congratulate her for her determination

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  1. Joseph Dunn August 1, 2020

    I was a student at St Johns from 1971 to 1975 and graduated with B.Ed Hons.I managed to get a full time job in a York school for 5 years before moving on to Deputy head and then Headteacher.In 1993 I gave it all up and went to Canada with my wife who was also a graduate of St Johns and I taught there for 26 years in Western Canada before returning to the UK in 2019.What a journey!!

    • Emily Hill August 4, 2020 — Post Author

      Hi Joseph! That’s amazing, we love hearing about St John’s love stories – and Canada sounds like an amazing adventure! Hope you’re feeling at home back in the UK.

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