What glass ceiling?

Angela Carter, a former hairdresser who went on to become vice-principal of Otley College before qui

Angela Carter, a former hairdresser who went on to become vice-principal of Otley College before quitting to become a life/management coach. - Credit: Gregg Brown

Angela Carter left school at 15 with no qualifications but rose to become a college vice principal. She told Sheena Grant how she did it.

Angela Carter shows off her hairdressing skills during a stage show for the Hairdressers' Training B

Angela Carter shows off her hairdressing skills during a stage show for the Hairdressers' Training Board. - Credit: Gregg Brown

When Angela Carter left school at 15 with no qualifications to take up a job as trainee hairdresser very few people - herself included - would have foreseen that she would go on to have a career in the upper echelons of further education, rising to become a college vice principal and launching her own management and life coaching company.

Yet that is exactly what has happened. And, once you’ve met Angela, it’s not difficult to see why.

She may have lacked formal qualifications when she started out but she’s always known how to get on with people and been determined to succeed. And anyway, what might have been obstacles to other people were never obstacles to her.

Take, for instance, the time she was told she couldn’t apply for a particular job because she didn’t have the necessary degree.

“I just found out where I could get the qualification I needed and signed up to do it,” she says. “I left a note for my husband saying something like: ‘Gone to Chelmsford to get my degree’.”

She did get it, of course, and in the meantime, while she was working towards the necessary qualification, bagged the job she’d previously been told she couldn’t apply for.

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Angela’s experiences have turned out to be the best advertisement for what she has always tried to instil in her students - it’s never too late to learn something new and take advantage of the educational opportunities that are out there.

She didn’t return to education until she was 30, although by then she had experience of running her own business and of training young hairdressers.

These days she lives, rather fittingly, next door to a family hairdressing business run by her son in Bury St Edmunds, opposite the West Suffolk College, where her career in education really gained momentum. Her daughter lives in a flat above the salon and her son and his family now live in the house she and her husband vacated to move into their present home.

She has always worked hard to combine family and career, just as her own mother did.

“My mother always worked,” she says. “We had pubs in those days - and that was a time when it wasn’t as common for women to work.”

Her mother was her inspiration, as was her first employer, Ann Johnson, who ran the hairdressing salon in Bury where she became an apprentice at the age of 15.

She went straight into the job after leaving Beyton Secondary Modern school, where the career options presented to her were minimal.

“We were given a form and had to tick three things we thought we might want to do,” she remembers. “I chose children’s nurse, receptionist and hairdresser.

“Jobs were plentiful in (the late 1960s). You could walk from one to the next fairly easily and staying on at school was quite unusual.

“The moment I walked into the hairdressing salon I loved it - the people, the creativity and the atmosphere. As part of my three-year apprenticeship I went to college, with training in the salon out of hours. I started off sweeping floors and washing hair, just as youngsters do now.”

Even in those days Angela was focussed and keen to succeed.

“I had a plan when I was 16 of all the things I wanted to do by the time I was 25, when I wanted to get married.”

“A lot of my friends got married between 18 and 21. You were considered on the shelf at 21. I was always a bit unusual. Part of that was down to my parents because we did a lot of moving about as children. They had an entrepreneurial spirit.”

That spirit led her to quit the salon at the end of her apprenticeship to work on a cruise ship as a hairdresser. “I was 19,” she says. “I remember flying to Bermuda to join the Americanos, a Greek ship with English-speaking passengers, cruising between Bermuda and New York. I was terrified but absolutely was going to do it.”

Angela met Barrie, now her husband, when they worked on the ships. They married in May, 1977.

“I was nearly 25, the age I had planned,” says Angela.

The couple followed Angela’s parents into the pub trade, initially in Norfolk. During that time tragedy struck and their first baby was still born.

A move back to Suffolk and two children followed before they quit pubs and bought a hairdressing business in Brandon. Barrie, also a hairdresser, still has a salon in the town. The move back into hairdressing was to prove pivotal for Angela’s future career.

“I was training girls in the salon and I soon found my skills were rusty,” she says. “The girls were coming back from college using words I didn’t recognise. So I signed up for a course at King’s Lynn college. Then I was asked to go back and teach the course. I had run a business and done training in the salon so I suppose it wasn’t that odd an invitation. It was just the theory side I needed a brush up on.”

She loved her new teaching role, sold her salon in Brandon and got a part-time job at the West Suffolk College, which she combined with the King’s Lynn job. She eventually joined the Bury college full time, leaving hairdressing behind.

“I was at the West Suffolk for 13 years,” she says. “But I had nine different jobs during that time.

“People talk about glass ceilings but I don’t really understand that. I was told I could not go for that job as staff development manager because although I had a teaching certificate, I didn’t have a degree. I thought: ‘Ok, I’ll go and get a degree’.” That was when she phoned up Chelmsford and was soon leaving her husband that note on the table...

“My husband has always been supportive. It was hard work but I wanted to be staff development manager and that is what it took. I went on to do a diploma in management studies after that. I would be doing my homework with my children. I think they understood. You don’t finish education and learning when you finish school.”

She eventually rose to assistant principal, in a temporary capacity. But after a taste of the job she decided it was something she would like to do more of. When a similar role at Otley came up she jumped at it.

“Although I had a huge breadth of knowledge it had all been at the West Suffolk College and it was a huge culture shock to go to Otley, a small agricultural college that was very different,” she says.

Feeling she wanted more experience at a greater range of colleges, she left Otley to set up her own management consultancy business, going into educational institutions across the country and trouble-shooting. Seven years later she was invited back to Otley, ended up staying on, as the college merged with Easton, and became vice principal.

“Although things have changed a lot in education since I was at school I think a lot of the same advice still holds good. People need a broad range of experience. Qualifications get you an interview but your CV gets you the job. It is never too late. Some people are not ready to learn when they are younger. They haven’t found the thing that excites them. That doesn’t mean you can’t go back to it later.

“For me school was OK but it didn’t inspire me with anything. Once I had hairdressing, from the first day I just loved it. A lot of young people who did not do well in school find college a much more preferable environment.”

After five years at Otley, Angela has just left to resurrect her management and life coaching consultancy. “I just felt the time was right,” she says. “I wasn’t ready to retire but I wanted to do fewer hours and have a bit more time for other things.”

And while her working life may seem to have involved a huge journey, that’s not really how Angela sees it. “It’s all involved people skills - the hairdressing, the teaching and the management.

“Hairdressing taught me skills around people and customer service but I couldn’t have done half of what I have done without the education I went on to have.”

? To find out more about Angela Carter Consultants email a_d_carter@btopenworld.com or call 07502206009.