To be completely honest, I wasn’t actually expecting to be studying this year at all. I didn’t think it was an option because I was so busy being a dad and putting food on the table for our family of five, as well as maintaining my art practice in whatever spare time I had. Then the University of Sunderland took me by surprise in a big way.
For the last two years, I’ve been working in the care sector, barely making ends meet. I was doing an incredibly challenging, underappreciated and underpaid job, which was rewarding on a moral level, but not a financial one. In addition to the low wage and long hours, I had to take a few months off to recover from surgery, which left us in dire straits – we had to survive on statutory sick pay throughout the global pandemic which is about £378 per month. Since I’m estranged, we’ve not had the support that most people take for granted. My wife’s family do what they can, but they live in Northern Ireland, so there's no safety net for us.
Once lockdown lifted, my wife came home one day from meeting her friend who was enrolled on the PGCE PCET course at Sunderland, and suggested that I apply for it. It came with access to a £15,000 bursary paid in monthly instalments if you followed the specialist pathway for special educational needs and disabilities. I have to admit that when my wife told me about this, I had actual tears of joy in my eyes. Life had been such a grind for so long, though we tried to make the best of it. I sent a hopeful email to the programme leader of the SEND pathway and asked if they’d consider my application. But as I was expecting, I was told I would only be considered if I retook my Maths and English level 2, as this was a legal requirement.
Fortunately, the programme leader was incredibly helpful and pointed me in the direction of a company called Learning Concepts, who were able to offer me distance learning courses free of charge. I worked day and night to attain these qualifications in just four weeks, which was something I never thought I could do. After working like an absolute trooper, I secured my place on the PGCE PCET course and was successful in my bursary application.
It's long been my ambition to become a teacher of art and music. I’ve always been a very empathetic person who’s motivated by social justice, which is why I’ve chosen to follow the SEND pathway, and it’s why I’ve been working in care for the last two years. So the opportunity to teach the subjects I love to students with additional needs is really inspiring to me.
I’ve never had much support historically. I’ve come as far I have because of my own efforts, so when I heard about Sunderland having support in place for estranged or care experienced students, I was intrigued. I didn’t think it would apply to me as I left care when I was 16 and I’m 28 now, but I took a chance and sent an email. As a result, they’ve granted me the We Care Bursary, which is an additional £2,000 across the year to help support my family during my studies, which I’m incredibly grateful for. My time in care was a horrendous experience that I’ve tried to forget, but at least something positive has come out of it now. I give my thanks to the We Care Team for this and I think it’s wonderful that such a team exists because people, like me, who don’t come from a conventional family, have as much right to do well in life as anyone else.
So far, my experiences of the University of Sunderland have been fantastic, from the additional support on offer, to the inspiring people, to the chance to improve my life circumstances. I strongly recommend studying at Sunderland, especially if you want to train to teach. It has been a life changing opportunity for me and my family."
Published 27 October 2020