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Home Education Personal Stories

Ann: self-directed education and a successful career in radio

Ann, 35, runs her own company supporting radio stations learn new production and technology skills, which takes her all over the world. Before this she worked with the BBC for 12 years, in a mixture of production and technical roles. Ann had a self-directed education; her interest was sparked by radio at age six and she was able to explore this in different ways as she grew up. She did choose to take GCSEs and A-Levels, and spread them over a number of years from the age of 13.

“I have never been to school. The nearest school had ‘the red table’ and ‘the green table’ and so on, as a way of teaching colours. Like most three-year-olds, I already knew colours. Mum worried that I wouldn’t be very stimulated, so she decided to home-educate until my younger sister and I were seven. By the time we were seven, we were all enjoying it so much we carried on for another year, and another, and another… I was dragged round various school open days at secondary age, so I knew what was available, and school was always an option, but it was never one I wanted to choose. Why would I?

I really, really liked reading and can remember tucking myself away in the book corner at playgroup and desperately trying to make out all the words. My sister liked playing with friends a lot. I loved Brownies and Guides and always enjoyed being creative, as well as doing sports like trampolining and dancing. I constantly asked questions and have always been confident talking to people of any age. We had friends who went to school, and also went to the local home-ed groups. We used to joke that we were so busy we had no idea how families had time to fit in going to school. When I was growing up, other children were universally jealous. Not having to go to school or do homework were considered a great bonus.

I got my own radio when I was six. I remember spending ages moving round the dial and trying to find something that spoke to me. There was one programme, once, that had a children’s character in it. I thought, and still do, that children need something that is led by them and has their voices and opinions. People in the UK really underestimate what children can do.

As a teenager I did all sorts of scraps of work experience and shadowing days in radio and tv and then helped to set up the local Talking Newspaper when I was 14. That gave me a good grounding in some of the skills needed. I then worked for two or three days a week unpaid at the local radio station for about a year and then started to get paid shifts. I was active in Girlguiding and offered to do some recordings at a big guiding event the radio station couldn’t send a reporter to one weekend. The plan was that the weekend editor would cut the material into a package. However, I knew what I wanted it to sound like, so went into the station late in the evening to edit it. I watched a colleague doing some editing, having never used the kit before, and then he went home and I was on my own. I figured that, as they were planning to edit my stuff anyway, it wouldn’t hurt if I had a go, because they could always do it ‘properly’. I paid £20 for a taxi home at 2am, deciding that this big sum of money was an investment in my career. When I was next in the station I was marched upstairs by the deputy editor who asked, “Where did you learn to make packages like THAT?” They had played my package and read my cue unedited. I was given a £40 fee and the role of News Researcher. I did bits of reporting, programme making, technical stuff, tour guiding, you name it! It was a hectic time, and I wasn’t earning much, but it was great experience. I saw an advert for working in the children’s radio department, thought, ‘this job is mine’ and ended up in London.

I did local and regional radio and tv for the BBC, then worked at national level making children’s content for Radio 4 and Radio 7. I also worked for Outlook at the BBC World Service doing production/online and some voiceover. In between that, I applied for some internal development funding to learn more about broadcast engineering. They’d never had anybody wanting to move from a production background to doing engineering stuff before, so I was lucky to get the placement. I got the role of a project manager, on the largest project the BBC had ever done, specialising in radio playout systems. This was a very busy time. I worked in Salford for half the week, London the rest, was in Germany for meetings once a month and was still running a Guide unit in London, including working for my international licence so I could take them on a trip abroad. I was lucky to receive two industry awards during this time, for my work in the radio industry and in project management.

I left the BBC on a sabbatical to go to New Zealand and talked my way into a job teaching on the National Diploma of Journalism, which I loved.

I decided not to return to my BBC post and instead went to South Sudan training broadcast engineers in management and also worked with producers and journalists in remote areas.

After this I had a period of travel. I went back to NZ for another stint and was then in and out of South Sudan a lot, working on various radio projects and also at the University of Juba as a consultant and trainer for Internews, spending some of the money I was earning on going on trips to places like South America in between.

Somewhere in all of this, I ended up taking over the running of an industry conference. I’d been involved as a volunteer for several years and then the organisation running it decided they weren’t able to do it anymore. A group of us formed a small company to make sure the event carried on, and we’ve had record numbers every year since.

In terms of running a business, I seem to be running four at the moment! I did some online courses and paid a friend who is an expert in tax returns to coach me through doing my own books for the first year. I really love working for myself again. I don’t need to ask anyone’s permission to attend an event or pitch a talk, and I am able to create a balance between production and engineering work if I wish. I also try to do my bit to encourage more women into radio technology, it’s such a creative area, and yet it is often overlooked as a career option.”

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