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Donna Tomley, 42, of Shrewsbury, said she was told at secondary school that she “wouldn’t be able to cope at college, as I would struggle and I should aim to work in a shop”.

Now, after completing her first year of study for a degree in Working with Children, Young People and Families, Donna is on her way in achieving her career goals, with particular thanks to the tutors at UCS who have believed in and supported her.

Donna, who is mum to a six-year-old daughter, said: “A fantastic friend encouraged me to attend an open evening, after six months of me saying ‘I can’t go to University I’m not clever enough’. This was because at secondary school I was told that I wouldn’t be able to cope at college. I was made redundant due to COVID-19, so saw my opportunity to improve my work prospects and signed up for UCS.”

Following school, Donna completed an NNEB (National Nursey Examination Board) and worked as a Speech and Language Therapy assistant and as a receptionist in a dental practice. While this work fitted in with her family life, after being made redundant, Donna saw the opportunity to revisit her passion to work with children.

She said that her tutor, Vicki Silver, “believed in me from the moment I first met her at the open evening and her encouragement to believe in my abilities helped enormously. I had spoken to Vicki about how I felt I had dyslexic tendencies and she agreed”.

With Vicki’s support, Donna applied for an adult dyslexia test. Although the pandemic has delayed her full diagnosis, Donna has been told that she has dyslexic tendencies. The University’s Inclusion and Disability team organised for an evaluation of her needs to support her during her studies, including setting up specialist software for her laptop.

During her first year of studies Donna, who also volunteers in a primary school, completed a research project, which allowed her to focus on her passion for helping children with SEND.

She said: “Due to my interest in Dyslexia and the fact that when I was at school it had been missed, even though I was classed as a slow learning student, it made me want to look into why children are not assessed in the early years? This led me to find out that there was a lack in training in Dyslexia and I found a course which is free to attend, online and only takes two hours exploring this area which can be carried out at any time. As children cannot be assessed until they are seven years old, in guidance with the British Dyslexia Association (BDA), this made me want to volunteer in a secondary school so that I can work in the SEND department.”

Donna added that the welcome and support she has received at UCS is helping her to achieve her career dreams.

She said: “As a mature student, I was very unsure about going to University, due to the image of it being a place for young people, but was so happy that I was not the only “very” mature student on my course.

“Finally being told that I am not ‘thick’ and I learn differently with Dyslexic tendencies was such a weight lifted of my shoulders. The support I have received has been fantastic from student support, counsellors, disability and inclusion team to my lecturers. I can highly recommend becoming a mature student at UCS.”

Vicki Silver, Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Education and Children’s Services, said: “When I first met Donna, I could see she desperately wanted to be able to study for a degree and was perfectly capable of doing so, but the lack of support and the negative attitude that she experienced at school really made her doubt herself. I am so pleased that she took the opportunity, presented by being made redundant, to apply for a place on the course and pursued getting a Dyslexia test, as it’s made all the difference to her studies and self-confidence. Her experience has also encouraged other students to think about the support that they might be able to get to help them with their studies.

“The voluntary work and research Donna has started as part of her studies will be so helpful to developing opportunities for the children and young people that she works with.”

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