May 22, 2024


It's Your Education

Edinburgh ex-army dad retrains as teacher after loving homeschooling kids in lockdown

An Edinburgh dad, who worked as an armed services tank mechanic, is re-training to be a teacher after loving homeschooling his kids during lockdown.

Neil Dunn, 32, was a tank mechanic with the armed forces before working a variety of jobs from driving Lothian buses to being a salesman.

The father of two girls, Rachel ,10, and Erin ,five, says that he never really found his niche but felt that having kids meant that time was up on his education.

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That was until the Scottish Wider Access Programme (SWAP) at Newbattle Abbey College was suggested to him by his brother.

SWAP courses are valuable for people with few or no qualifications but with a desire to change their lives and achieve their personal ambitions.

Neil said: “I did genuinely think time was up on my education. I’d left school at 16 as my mates were all leaving at the same time and getting jobs. I started off as an apprentice in a garage but that soon closed down and I was left a bit stuck.

“I spent over eight years in the army as a tank mechanic and really enjoyed it but the issue was that those skills were not really transferable. After starting a family and trying to find secure employment I floated between a variety of jobs from driving busses and taxis to working in sales.

“None of it felt right but when you have a young family you always feel as though you need to be earning. But come the pandemic last year I was made redundant from the sales job. I started homeschooling the girls and realised that not only did I enjoy it but that I was good at it.

“I did a bit of mentoring during my time with the army and loved it but it was when I started homeschooling that I thought there might be something in this for me.”

Neil said that his wife Nicola, 31, as well as his family have been immensely supportive when he applied for a spot on the social sciences with primary education course at Newbattle Abbey College.

Following a stroke of luck after being left on the waiting list, the ex-mechanic was accepted onto the course and thrived in an extremely difficult environment.

Neil said: “Homeschooling my kids definitely gave me the confidence to make the plunge but I was extremely lucky to have my wife by my side. Some of my classmates were single parents and it must have been extremely difficult to balance life during the pandemic with education.

“Nonetheless, the college was absolutely fantastic in supporting us. If I ever needed to miss a class for childcare they understood and ensured I was ok. It was extremely challenging to learn Nat 5 math from home and not in class but again our tutor was fantastic.

Family picture of Neil Dunn with wife Nicola and daughters Rachel and Erin.
Family picture of Neil Dunn with wife Nicola and daughters Rachel and Erin.

“I now have four years to look forward to at Queen Margaret University before I can become a primary school teacher. But what has been amazing out of all of this is that I get to teach my kids the valuable lessons of respecting education.

“I have mixed feelings about leaving school at 16 because I obviously regret not pursuing my education but then again I do not think I was ready for university, and the skills as well as experiences I’ve collected over the years will stand me in good stead in the classroom.”

Marian Docherty, principal of Newbattle Abbey College, said: “Newbattle Abbey College is very proud of these students. Despite the challenges of the last session, they have worked extremely hard and achieved their goals. We have helped them to change their lives and wish them well in the future.

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“We offer Access to Higher Education courses, in Arts & Social Sciences, Celtic Studies and Primary Education. These courses give adults the opportunity to return to learning and progress to higher education. The majority of our students have few or no qualifications and many have had disrupted lives and poor experiences of formal education. Newbattle offers them a vital second chance to improve their own lives and often those of their families.”

Newbattle Abbey College says that they are still recruiting for all courses starting in September 2021.

To find out more about the college or financial support available to prospective students please email: or apply directly by logging on to