Along with the usual New Year's resolutions to lose weight and quit smoking, many people are signing up for part-time courses which can give both their prospects and confidence a boost. One mature student talks about how the vocational courses she took at Uxbridge College have changed the way she lives and works.

Improving career prospects and skills, boosting confidence, and making friends are among the hopes for many adults who go back to college.

But one woman who went back to Uxbridge College to study part-time says she has found all these benefits and more.

Sue Fletcher-White (45), a catering manager with nearly 30 years in industry and a mother of two, has recently achieved three qualifications which she says have made a huge difference to her life and work.

She has completed courses in both IT and food safety, and is now also qualified to assess the skills of people taking catering qualifications themselves.

Sue, who works at Longmead Primary School, West Drayton, and has two daughters Sinead, 13, and Shannon, nine, said: "There are lots of jobs people don't always realise how much is involved, and I think catering is one of them. But having a qualification helps give you some recognition of what you have done in your career. This is why the assessors' qualification means the most to me - my knowledge and experience are being recognised.

"In my career I have done all sorts of things, I started as a washer upper and worked my way up, and have even prepared meals for the likes of Prince Charles and Princess Ann before coming to Longmead."

At Longmead, cooking school meals is an important part of Sue's job - but actually only a small part of it.

Meals not only have to meet nutritional standards set by government, but the menu is also affected by the national 'Every Child Matters' agenda. This means every individual child's needs have to be taken into account, including their religion, allergies, health and preferences, which often have an impact on what food is served.

Following a £100,000 kitchen rebuild at the school in Laurel Lane, Sue now also oversees the provision of hot meals to three other schools in the area which do not have facilities to cook their own.

Sue is also in charge of the school cookery club, strategic planning for catering, stock taking, preparing reports for the Headteacher Trish McGee and Governors, and managing her staff training and standards.

She says her ITQ - Information Technology Qualification - at Level 3 has made life at home so much easier as well as at work.

She said: "It is all about confidence. I definitely feel more confident at work and I use my new skills all the time at home as well. I used to put off answering my emails because I didn't really know how to use the computer properly, but now I use it all the time.

"IT is in your life all the time, especially if you have got kids - I can interact more with the kids and help them with their homework.

"Overall I have got so many more skills, which is great for my career as well as my life in general. It can be a bit daunting going back to study as an adult, but my tutor was so helpful and also everyone in our class helped each other. I have made some brilliant friends as well and that is something you don't do every day either!"

Trisha McGee, Headteacher of Longmead School, said "There is no doubt the training received by Sue as well as other members of staff at Longmead School through Uxbridge College has made a real difference.

"With Sue now qualified as an assessor, it means that we can train our own staff without having to cover the costs of them taking time out to train.

"If your school or business has staff who need to improve their skills, I would recommend Uxbridge College - the training our staff have received has certainly added value to our organisation."

Michael Farley, Vice Principal of Uxbridge College, said: "One of the best things about working in further education is seeing what a huge difference learning new skills can make to people.

"Adult learning is not simply about whether you know how to use a computer or not, for instance, it is about gaining confidence and realising the world is full of opportunities."

* New part-time courses starting in January 2009 include: Accounting; Beauty Therapy; Catering & Hospitality; Computing; Electrical Engineering; English Language (ESOL and EFL); Environmental Health; First Aid; Fitness Instruction; Hairdressing; Motor Vehicle Engineering; Personnel Management; Teacher Training.

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