Mark Preiss
Access to Primary Education at WCS, Paisley - 2016-17
Primary Education at the University of Strathclyde 2017-18 to present
Hi, I’m Mark and I’m the youngest of four boys, raised in Renfrewshire by working-class parents. My father left school at around age 14 or 15 and just went straight into employment. I think he started out as a manual labourer, but he was smart and he worked hard, so he eventually progressed on to become an electrical instrument technician. My mother worked, too; she was a classroom assistant in a school for children with additional support needs.  

I am the first in my immediate family to go to university. My older brothers are all gainfully employed – one is an electrician, another is fire fighter, and the third has a good job with a major airline. None of us, including me, ever really had any great ambition to go to university to get a degree, so that path for me has been a long and winding one.  

In the early years of secondary school, I did really well. I got good standard grades and in third year, I was selected to join an initiative that targeted pupils who were interested in sport to get involved in earning some low level sport coaching qualifications. Through that experience, I became involved in working and volunteering on a regular basis with local primary schools, and eventually found my way to paid employment. At the time, I was enrolled on an HNC/D Sport Coaching course at what was then James Watt College; however, I wasn’t enjoying the theory aspect of it at all, and once I started getting paid to do work I really enjoyed, I decided to leave college, even though I had only done one year and didn’t yet have the full HNC qualification. I put that down to immaturity on my part and a general lack of understanding about what I was doing, and what the implications were. Later on, I tried to go back and get the missing credit I needed, but by then the course had changed, so I gave it up and focused instead on my job.  

In the years after leaving college, I worked for a couple of different local authorities, delivering inclusion support in primary schools for children with additional social, emotional and behavioural needs. I then moved into a job with the national inpatient unit for Scotland for children with mental illness. I worked there for just over a year, and it was a great experience. I was working with children of primary school age, but in a healthcare environment, as they weren’t able to attend mainstream schools while they were under hospital care. They still needed to get some level of formal education, however, so I became involved with that, providing one-to-one support and working with small groups of learner to implement therapeutic strategies to help them overcome the challenges of their illnesses.  

It was around that time that I began to seriously think about going back into education. Through professional dialogue with some of my colleagues at the hospital, I realised that what I wanted to do with my life would require formal qualifications. I simply wasn't going to be able to move forward in employment without a degree. I knew that I enjoyed working with primary school aged children, and teaching had long been in the back of my mind, but it just seemed completely out of reach.  

It was only through conversations with my older brother’s wife that I found out about the SWAP programme. She had completed the Access to Primary Education programme and spoke very highly of her experience. She made it sound fantastic – almost too good to be true, to be honest. But I investigated and then applied – and it has all worked out great for me so far!  

My year as a SWAP student was probably one of the most enjoyable years of my life. I was 25 years old at the time, and I worried that I would be one of the oldest students in the class, but in actuality I was probably one of the youngest! The teaching team at West College Scotland were absolutely incredible. Gordon Murray and the others really helped to prepare us well for the next level of study, providing loads of instruction and support to develop skills most of us hadn’t touched in years: things like critical thinking, academic reading, and academic writing. I think back to the first piece of writing I had to do for the course – the written task that they gave us to do at interview – and then I think about the final report I delivered for the Contemporary Issues unit we completed at the end of the year, and I’m just amazed at the progress I made in one short year.  

I did very well on my SWAP course and finished with good results, but almost immediately began to worry that I had reached my peak, and that I wouldn’t be able to match the level required at university. However, the preparation provided by the year in college served me very well, and in first year at passed all of my subjects with distinction. I was delighted with the ‘A’ grades I received for Social Policy and for History, but it was for my Primary Education assignments that I was keen to get the best marks. The night the grade for that first paper finally came through and I saw that I’d achieved 92%, I got such an adrenaline rush. I was blown away. I had worked really hard on that paper, but I know that there’s no way I would have been equipped to achieve that result without the SWAP programme, and the help of Gordon Murray and the team at West College Scotland in Paisley. That year made such a big difference to me.  

During my SWAP year, everyone in my class became a ‘STEM Ambassador’, which meant we were involved with local primary schools in teaching science to children. We had P5/P6 school pupils all kitted out in lab coats and safety goggles, and it was a fantastic experience for all involved. I enjoyed it so much that, when it came time for me to organise my first-year placement at university, I decided to set up something similar there. Working with Barnardo's Children’s Charity, I became involved in supporting the integration of Syrian refugee children whose native tongue is Arabic. I had learned that practical activities, in addition to promoting inclusion and a sense of togetherness, were also very useful in facilitating language acquisition, as such activities provide visual clues that give meanings to words.  

That was a richly rewarding experience in itself, but it also led to my submission for the Placement and Curriculum class being nominated for the Donald Christie Prize, honouring the Most Outstanding First Year Placement. There were six students nominated from 260 based on our placement reflections, reports and essays, and it was a great experience, getting to meet Professor Donald Christie himself, as well as Linda Brownlow (Head of the School of Education) and Norrie McKay (also from the School of Education). I was extremely nervous, but received excellent and inspirational feedback, and then was totally shocked and caught off-guard when they announced me as the winner. Even now, it’s only beginning to sink in!   

I’m now in second year and just starting on my latest placement. It’s pretty exciting to be in a mainstream classroom again with a class of 29 pupils, and my days are jam-packed with university, placement and volunteering activities. It’s really full-on, but I’m enjoying it so much.  

If you’re thinking about applying for a SWAP programme, I think it’s important to give it your full commitment right from the start. You may be taking a risk, giving up work or making other sacrifices, and if you’re going to do all of that, it makes sense to really give it your all. Dedicate yourself to it and make the most of the opportunity. It’s an amazing year, and it will go by really fast.

Good luck!


I just wanted to send a message to say that after studying the Access to Primary Education class back in 2016/17, I’m now graduating from the University of Strathclyde with a First Class Honours Degree in Primary Education. 

My time at university has been a great success and a period of my life that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed. I can’t tell you how much of that I owe to the SWAP programme and my year at WCS. Ultimately, that year at college a few years ago taught me a lot about myself that I didn’t know beforehand, helped me to gain a place at a great university, and prepared me for studying at university level. 

To you, and all of the staff at WCS who taught on the Access to Primary Education course, thank you! It really was a life changing experience and something that I will always reflect on fondly. 

Hope you’re well! 

Mark Preiss
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