Spotlight on International Women’s Day 2024 – Hannah O’Neill

We’re celebrating International Women’s Day 2024 by shining a light on some of our incredible female staff. Meet Hannah O’Neill – Group Director of Academic Studies Faculty and City of Oxford College and University Centre at Activate Learning.

Hi Hannah. Tell us a bit about yourself

Aged 23, I was a single parent to a two-year-old son, and despite having had managerial jobs in the hospitality sector, I felt lost and unfulfilled. I was lacking in confidence in my academic ability due to the circumstances I had found myself in, but I desperately wanted to change my future.

I enrolled at Bracknell and Wokingham College with a sense of trepidation, but in pursuit of a dream to become a History teacher. This was one of the best decisions of my life.

Hannah O’Neill – Group Director of Academic Studies Faculty and City of Oxford College and University Centre


The next two years were filled with challenges, not only was I balancing my son, a job and full-time study, I was also a 23-year-old in classes with 16-year-olds (including my little sister) and I regularly doubted my decision and my ability to perform.

However, with the undying support of my amazing teachers, who motivated me to remain determined, supported me through my personal circumstances and showed me how to get my brain back into action, I gained a place at Reading University to study History and Politics in 2011.

Hannah O'Neill breastfeeding at her graduation

These two images, from my graduation in 2014, featuring my second son who was born in June that year, represent the culmination of the educational journey I undertook, and reflect a sense of joy and pride that all the hard work had paid off.

Hannah O'Neill graduating

Without the FE sector, I would not have had the opportunity to restart my education aged 23, I would not have had the opportunity to stretch my academic ability and would not have had the opportunity to grow my confidence. I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to do what I do now.

Over the last (nearly) ten years working in FE I have seen stories such as my own hundreds of times, probably more. Both young people and mature learners having the opportunity to strive for success, to change their lives and to grow as individuals through FE. This is why the sector is so vital and so worthy of praise and celebration.

I am hugely proud to be a small part of the work of colleagues across the sector, and of all our students who show resilience and motivation in their educational journeys; we all benefit from the power of opportunities.

FE has continued to provide me with opportunities for self-development through my career to date. As a leader of Activate Learning, it is now my role to help create the conditions in which our learners, colleagues and partners can thrive through opportunity; to extend the opportunity that I benefitted from so greatly to the individuals within our communities.