I got my science master’s at 74 even though I failed my 11-plus

I got my science master’s at 74 even though I failed my 11-plus

I got my science master’s at 74 even though I failed my 11-plus – failures ‘need not be life determining’

  • John Wilsher, 74, from Devon, earned merit in his MSc from Swansea University
  • Decades earlier, the now-retired primary school teacher failed his 11-plus exam
  • Now the septuagenarian wants to encourage others to follow academic dreams 
  • He believes that hurdles, like failing exams, ‘need not be life-determining’

A 74-year-old retired teacher who failed his 11-plus exam has graduated from university with merit and is encouraging others never to stop learning – saying that hurdles ‘need not be life-determining’.

John Wilsher, originally from Barnstaple, Devon, says he had a long and happy career as a primary school teacher, forming a lifelong passion for education – despite a rocky start to his own schooling.  

‘Whilst teaching, I studied for an Open University bachelor’s degree, a postgraduate diploma in education and two other diplomas,’ he said.

‘Studying whilst working seems to be a part of my DNA,’ said Mr Wilsher, Having always been fascinated by geography, he decided to enrol on an MSc course in environmental dynamics and climate change at Swansea University.

John Wilsher (pictured) has graduated from Swansea University with an MSc aged 74. He earned a merit in his degree, decades after failing his 11-plus exam

‘I trained as a geography teacher and science was also a real interest of mine. Climate change is, or ought to be, the concern of everyone as it is so topical.

‘Mind you, my last science lesson was in 1964, my last geography lecture in 1969 and my last exam in 1987 – surprisingly, some things have changed since then.’

He started his studies in September 2021 and was able to do so in person after receiving a bursary from the Welsh Government.

The £4,000 non-repayable grant helps cover study and living costs for those over 60 who cannot access the same financial support as younger students.

‘Without the bursary, I could not have afforded the course on my small, fixed pension,’ said Mr Wilsher, who lives in Swansea.

‘The course was all I wanted it to be, very challenging but absorbing. I learnt so much about a subject which, to some, is still controversial, and I’m grateful I had the chance to do it.’

Although he was a keen student, returning to higher education was not easy, but he was impressed with the support available to those who needed it.

Mr Wilsher (pictured in 1949) hopes that his story will inspire others to never give up on their goals

Mr Wilsher (pictured in 1949) hopes that his story will inspire others to never give up on their goals

‘As an older man, facing in-person exams for the first time in 35 years, and with a memory that I knew was not as sharp as it had been in my youth, I was concerned,’ he said.

‘However, once I shared this with my tutor, the support agencies sprang into action and measures were provided to alleviate my concern.’

Mr Wilsher hopes his story proves that while setbacks can happen, you should never give up on your goals.

‘I’ve had my share of hurdles to overcome, such as opportunities lost because of my 11-plus failure, or most recently, Covid, but they need not be life-determining,’ he said.

‘Life is not a rehearsal; positive opportunities should be grasped when available.

‘Time goes so quickly, especially for the over 60s, so if you are interested in something, focus on the end goal, not your past hardships. Go for it now.’


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Maria Chiorando

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