A Moray man who was “hopeless at school” has shown you’re never too old to get an education.
Tony Slater, 65, from Portknockie, left the town’s secondary school aged 16 in 1972 with no qualifications.
Now in retirement, the former offshore steward has just returned from Glasgow where he picked up a national award at a lavish ceremony for adult learners.
After leaving school, Tony moved into unskilled manual work. Or as he put it, “my fair share of dead-end jobs”.
Aged 54, he decided to start learning with Moray Council’s adult learning team, taking classes in maths, English, history and computing among others at Buckie Library.
Having been in his own words “hopeless at school”, Tony now has a string of qualifications to his name, including National 5s and various certificates.
“I ended up doing a lot of dead-end jobs that, while they put food on the table, they didn’t give me much pleasure,” Tony told The P&J.
“I think what I felt was shame, really. Shame that I didn’t pass my 11-plus, and that I didn’t leave school with any qualifications.
“I always felt like there was something missing – it does affect your confidence.”
He added: “I’ve met several others in the adult classes who had a similar school experience to me. For whatever reason it just didn’t work out for them. The sort who’d sit at the back of the class.
“For some people, who genuinely do try in school, it just somehow passes them by.”
Tony was ‘scared’ to walk back into a classroom after difficult school days
So how do you go from leaving school without a grade to your name, to a plethora of qualifications and national awards?
“It all started from a random conversation,” said Tony.
“Someone mentioned maths and I said, ‘oh I was useless at maths, absolutely hated it’.
“And he said, you know, you can learn it now, it’s never too late, you can take classes in Buckie, give it a go.
“I thought, you know what, I will give it a go.”
But first he had to overcome a lot of self-doubt to even walk through the door of his first class.
“It was scary at first going to my first lessons. I stood outside the building for a long while thinking will I go in, will I not go in?
“Maths was just an enigma to me at school, just a jumble of numbers, and English just a jumble of words.
“I just couldn’t understand it, and the classroom environment back in those days was difficult for me, so I was really scared to walk in.
“I just said to myself, well, if I make a fool of myself then I don’t have to go back.
“But as soon as I went in, and saw my tutor sitting there with a big smile, from there on I never looked back. It’s just been solid encouragement the whole time.
“I absolutely love it, I’d go seven days a week if they let me.”
How Tony’s life changed after taking up learning
Tony’s studies have brought him a whole lot more than letters on a certificate.
They’ve changed his life.
He suffered a stroke three years ago, and puts his recovery down to his studies and “having something to focus on”.
He added: “Knowing that you can achieve things you never thought you could is very satisfying.
“I’ve become more outgoing with the confidence it’s given me, and I enjoy life a lot more.
“I’m not as introverted and self-conscious any more.
“Education just enriches your life. I found a joy in learning, and it’s never too late to discover that. It’s addictive.
“And I discovered libraries as well. I always thought libraries were intimidating places for educated people, but now I love them.
“Buckie Library has become my happy place.”
Some of the students I spoke to hadn’t got the results they wanted. It was noticeable on their faces that they felt they’d lost their chance.
Perhaps there are those who are now in their 30s, 50s, 70s who didn’t achieve in education, who feel they’ve missed the boat.
I’d advise them to speak to Tony.
National recognition: ‘Representing the north-east was one of the best days of my life’
“You’re never too old,” he said.
“Age is just a number. Go for it. Get some fun out of it and meet new people.
“Teachers are the most wonderful, kind, patient people.
“So a big shout out to them, and to Moray Council’s adult learning team – they’re absolutely terrific.”
Tony has recently returned from Glasgow where he attended the Adult Learning Week awards at a lavish ceremony in the city’s iconic City Chambers.
He picked up an award as one of 10 finalists from a shortlist of 180 from across the country.
“It was a magnificent occasion, very exciting.
“And it was great to represent the north-east as most of the other awards went to people from the central belt.
“It was one of the best days of my life.”