By Kay and Philip Blayney, Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge

Teacher and education consultant Kay Blayney was inspired by her oldest son Matthew to follow in his footsteps and study for a part-time Master’s degree at the Faculty of Education – where her second son, Philip, then joined her as a full-time Master’s student. As they prepare to graduate together, Kay and Philip reflect on the benefits of their mother-and-son educational journey together.

Kay with her sons Philip and Matthew

Kay’s M.Ed Journey

Studying for a Masters degree in Cambridge had always interested me. This derived from weekly Saturday morning town visits with my father who was a bricklayer by trade (like his father, my grandfather) both of whom had worked in some of the colleges and who both had a passion for the university’s college buildings. From their stories, I was always drawn to the college ‘fronts and backs,’ often longing to understand what college life really did look like from the inside. My father said that this was ‘our Cambridge’ and that these buildings belonged to the townspeople, too; the latter a mantra I passed on to my sons. Yet, my own personal circumstances and unconventional career trajectory did not initially lead me to meet the Cambridge ‘gown.’ instead I had to follow a less conventional work-based learning pathway that led me into teaching and leading as Head of Creative and Expressive Arts at a local academy trust. This leadership role inspired me to pursue my current educational consultancy role, working for teaching schools in Cambridge, striving for school improvement for all.

Living in Cambridge all of my life continued to support my intrigue into what it would be like to be a part of this ‘gown’ tradition. Seeing my two sons achieve their teacher training at Cambridge gave me a further insight into Cambridge university life, particularly the formal dinners and the warm welcome that I received as a guest at both of my sons’ colleges. However, it was during my eldest son Matthew’s graduation ceremony at the Senate House when I first imagined myself down on one knee receiving my own Masters from Cambridge. Thus, Matthew’s graduation day inspired me to apply to study on the same course he had taken, which was a part-time Masters degree (M.Ed) in Educational Leadership and School Improvement (the ELSI course).

Why did we both chose to pursue the ELSI course? 

Matthew and I are very similar in personalities and both have a passion to lead in any given situation. We both believe that good leadership is to serve one’s community. Matthew demonstrates this as a Captain in the Army Reserve, while also performing his day job as the Assistant Head in a Cambridgeshire secondary school. Notably, he took this service ethos forward when he volunteered to serve in Afghanistan in 2015, whereas, my service is much more community based. But, perhaps, always striving to support improving the life of others is a bit of a handed-down family trait?

In 2016, my part-time studies began, and I was thrilled to be part of the M.Ed learning community with like-minded peers and of course the ELSI teaching team. During my first year I had numerous conversations and debates with my eldest son, and it is fair to say that he became my ELSI alumni critical friend. Often our conversations would include teacher autonomy vs. accountability, alongside creativity vs. government initiatives such as EBacc. A debate that would involve us both ‘fighting the cause’ for our chosen subjects, (his, history and mine drama), but always ending up agreeing that both were a necessity and entwined in so many ways in society. Another common trait we have is the value of sharing personal anecdotes that support learning as well as allowing failure to be part of this process. 

So, if one son was not enough for these educational debates, I was delighted when an additional family bonus happened during my second year of study. This was when my middle son, Philip, came to the Faculty of Education to study for his M.Ed in Second Language Education. 

Reflecting back on this time, it has been both special and surreal – surreal in the sense that Philip and I only ever saw each other briefly passing in the coffee queue on Wednesday afternoons, or in the Faculty library from a distance. The special times happened during the summer of 2018 M.Ed thesis write-up when we met up in the University library (UL) and sat either opposite each other or side-by-side. One of us was writing up their findings, while the other decided on their epistemology. A knowing glance would signify that it was time for a coffee break or spot of lunch. At this point, we would walk to the library café where we would discuss our progress and compare thesis notes.  

One of those days we explored the UL together looking for a different place to sit, passing through the narrow little corridor studying places on the first and second floor, thinking about those that had studied before us and of those that are yet come to Cambridge. Other joint pursuits were dining in each other’s colleges, Philip’s Sidney Sussex, and mine Emmanuel. A truly memorable formal experience was when my eldest son, Matthew, joined us and all three of us Blayney’s donned our gowns.

Studying for the M.Ed has been an enriching experience and one which I will never forget, partly because of the sheer hard work and hours required to complete a credible thesis, but moreover for the joy of sharing this learning experience with my own sons. 

Philip’s M.Ed Journey

In many ways, my feelings about studying at Cambridge differ very little to those of my mother. Having first recognised the university as a child in the late 90s, it’s imposing secret gardenlike walls painted it as a place that was off-limits and inaccessible. I would see these walls, particularly the wisteria-flooded ones of Sidney Sussex, on a weekly basis as my mum and grandma took my brothers and me into town for Saturday morning coffee and a stroll around the shops. This formative experience made making a collegiate preference almost predestined. 

The Brothers Matthew and Philip

College life at Cambridge opens up a huge number of opportunities to socialise and formal dining and rowing were my activities of choice. As my mum has already mentioned, this was of enormous significance to us as a family and, in the dining halls of Sidney Sussex, Emmanuel and Downing, we could not help but express our fortune at being able to enjoy such experiences together. This time, along with many others in our own homes, provided an essential opportunity to discuss ideas, clear up misunderstandings and develop each other’s thinking in the most supportive of environments. The ability of mum and Matthew to empathise so readily was especially useful when the pressures of work, life and studies combined and had the potential to overwhelm. At this point, my regular Tuesday evening visits to Blayney HQ and shared weekend dog walks were vital as they had great power to reassure and encourage me through such long days in the UL.

In summary, the opportunity to study for a PGCE and a M.Ed at Cambridge was a fantastic one, which the seven-year-old me, standing in the shadows of the wisteria would not have thought possible. It was, however, studying for the ME.d with the support of Matthew’s past experiences and mum’s fresh knowledge of the course and mutually required academic theory that made it a unique experience.

Kay Blayney is an innovative and well-organised teacher and educational consultant, experienced in initiating and leading new approaches and collaborating on multidisciplinary projects. She has recently completed a Masters in Education in Educational Leadership and School Improvement at the Faculty of Education, Cambridge.

Philip Blayney is a teacher of German, French and Spanish and Assistant Housemaster of one of eight boarding houses at the Leys School in Cambridge. Having completed his undergraduate studies at the University of Sheffield in German, French and Polish in 2013, Philip joined the Parkside Federation as an unqualified MFL teacher. In 2015, he decided to formally join the family profession, starting his PGCE at the Faculty of Education. On completion and once settled into his new role at the Leys, he continued his studies to Master’s level in September 2017, opting for the Research in Second Language Education (RSLE) pathway. Philip submitted his thesis, entitled “Who is Angela Merkel? A phenomenological study of the factors that influence global competence amongst MFL students at A-level” in late August 2018.

Posted by:fersacambridge

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