In constructing a narrative account of our lives, we may recall experiences of schooling with a mixture of resentment and regret, and perhaps a sense of ‘wasted opportunities’. This is particularly true if school has left us with a fragile academic self-esteem, through being labelled ‘a failure’ as a child. For some, this contributes to a desire to ‘make good’ the perceived deficit through re-engagement with formal education as an adult learner.
This paper draws upon biographical data from longitudinal research that followed the progress of a group of mature students on a further education Access to Higher Education course. It explores how themes of ‘waste’ especially and ‘desire’ are used in accounting for past, present and (anticipated) future lives and learner identities. It concludes that, despite some commonalities, experiences of adult learners are too individual and personalised to be meaningfully categorised, as some early studies had attempted to do.