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18 January 2021


My journey from Access to HE to becoming the UK's youngest MP






Nadia Whittome
Member of Parliament for Nottingham East

Like many Access to HE students, Nadia Whittome sought to continue her studies outside of the traditional A-level system. She reflects on her experience of Access to HE, and her pathway to becoming a Member of Parliament.


It was while I was at sixth form college that I realised that A-levels weren’t the qualification for me. I wanted something more vocational and suited to my skillset, in the subject that I wanted to study at university. After speaking with a local further education college, I signed up to Access to Law Diploma.


I absolutely loved the course – it was probably the first time in my life that I had really enjoyed education. I think there is a misconception that the Access to HE Diploma is an easy option, when in fact it’s very rigorous and intensive. I attended Nottingham College (which was NCN at the time) and was impressed by the high quality of teaching and the genuine interest and investment that our teachers had in our success.


The course was coursework-based, and covered a number of areas in the law. The teaching took an independent learning approach that was more adult in style and prepared me for university.


Following the Diploma, I was offered a place at my first choice, to study Law at the University of Nottingham, but dropped out before completing the course because I could no longer afford it. By this time, I was already politically active – the bedroom tax was what really motivated me to get involved in politics. I’d joined the Labour Party and GMB trade union at 16, and became increasingly involved in community campaigns. I wanted to fight the injustices that I witnessed all around me growing up under austerity. Last year I was elected MP for Nottingham East, and am now the youngest MP in parliament.


The Access to HE Diploma gave me confidence in my academic ability because it was taught in the way that I learnt. It was also the first time I had ever been taught by teachers of colour, and that inspired me. I think it is important for young people to see teachers who look like them and come from similar backgrounds.


My word of advice to anyone considering the Access to HE Diploma would be to do it. The course will prepare you for university if that is what you want to do. I’d also advise prospective students to be aware that it is a heavy workload, like doing 3 A levels in one year, so only do it when you have space in your life to commit - particularly if you’re not eligible for a grant and have to pay.


I’m glad that I had the option of studying the Access to HE Diploma and wish anyone considering it success in their academic endeavours in the future.