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‘I won’t let dyslexia stop me’ – the degree apprentice building a new career

When Martyn Carroll left school at 16, he didn’t realise he had dyslexia and simply thought higher education wasn’t for him. He’s now proving just what he’s capable of thanks to a degree apprenticeship with The Open University and South Western Railway.

It means he can finally achieve his degree dream – and apply his learning right away, without taking a career break.

“When I [left school] at 16, there was no such thing as dyslexia, or it certainly wasn’t [thought about],” explains Martyn. “I was considered ‘non-conforming’ and not interested in the subject matter. I joined the Army at 16 and was there for over 23 years, from 1985 to 2009.”

Though Martyn always struggled with reading and writing, he was determined not to let this hold him back. He started reading novels while serving overseas and would turn to poetry and crossword puzzles to help with his literacy.

Overcoming barriers

All through his Army career, Martyn continued to push himself with regular courses.

“While I didn’t get any formal qualifications when I left the Army, I did a lot of courses and got a lot of confidence,” says Martyn. “Unless I told somebody I was dyslexic, it wasn’t immediately apparent. But I had to work on it.”

When Martyn left the services, he began working in project management, before taking on a new opportunity at South Western Railway. When he realised he could study for a degree apprenticeship through his workplace, he jumped at the opportunity.

“My line manager [mentioned the Chartered Manager Degree Apprenticeship to me],” says Martyn. “I have a natural tendency to look for courses to improve and with the dyslexia I can’t just sit back and do nothing. Otherwise, I can feel myself regressing, so I have to keep moving forward and keep improving.

“Coming in new to the railway industry, [I knew the apprenticeship] would give me a really good foundation.”

A new opportunity as a degree apprentice

Through the Chartered Manager Degree Apprenticeship, Martyn can develop his skills through a mix of academic and practical learning. He’s also able to go back and complete the Maths and English qualifications required as part of the apprenticeship, as he missed out on these at school.

One big benefit for learning in this way for both Martyn and his employer, is that all the skills he’s learning can be applied right away.

Support from my line manager has been very good, very positive and very proactive. I feel that South Western Railway have been fully committed to helping me get this. They want me to do well. And the OU equally [are always there].

Martyn Carroll
Asset Policy and Standards Manager at South Western Railway

As well as gaining support from his tutors, Martyn is part of an online group of students who regularly share advice on dealing with dyslexia. With the support of his wife too, Martyn has numerous people cheering him on.

“[I’ve now] finished module one, which was initially a bit daunting,” he says. “It’s an awful lot of commitment and work. [But] I’ve steadily got better with my assessments. The feedback from the tutor each time has been robust, but helpful. It’s taught me what I need to do.”

Moving forward with confidence

Looking ahead, Martyn feels his degree apprenticeship will help him to keep moving forward – personally and professionally.

“Through the years I’ve understood that dyslexia is not indicative of a level of intelligence,” he says.

“I’m quite ambitious and I think most military veterans are ambitious by nature. You’re always looking for that next move forward. Doing this apprenticeship is feeding into that ambition.

“It’s lighting that fire inside again. When I finish the degree apprenticeship, I can potentially look for bigger and better jobs within South Western Railway.”

Looking ahead

“To do this at my age, having come back from the Middle East to go into a new job, it’s been quite tough,” admits Martyn.

Yet no matter the barriers Martyn has faced along the way, he knows all of his hard work will be worth it: 

“To do this learning and get to the end of the apprenticeship and stand up there [at a degree ceremony] with all the togs on and get the degree will be an amazing thing. It’s something to really look forward to and a real motivator.”


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