Things have come full circle for 26-year-old Kayleigh Hall who will spend this summer working with local Year 9 pupils who, like her, may not consider going to University as an achievable goal.
The young mum of three participated in the 2004 First Campus Year 9 Residential course at the University when she was at Cardiff’s Willows High School and says that it was this experience that made her determined to become the first in her family to go to university.
When Kayleigh, who spent time in foster care, graduates in Health and Social Care next month, she hopes her father and her partner Dan, will join her at the Wales Millennium Centre ceremony but insists that no-one will be prouder of her than she is of herself.
“If no-one else turned up, I wouldn’t be disappointed,” says Kayleigh, who is getting married in August. “This is for me. I have wanted to do this since I was little and on that residential course. I cried when I got accepted to university – I didn’t think I would get through or that I was smart or presentable enough. I thought they had made a mistake. After I left school I had two children and went back to University at 22. I did an Access course to get in.”
Kayleigh’s hasn’t been a traditional route to graduation but she insists that university can and should be an option for everyone. She had her third child in 2015 and would like to progress to study for a Masters in Educational Psychology. She credits university staff like Emma Cook in Student Services for their support, saying: “Emma supported me from day one – I was petrified going to induction and she seeked me out. The bursaries have helped with my studies too.”
Kayleigh refers back to the course organised by the First Campus Project, which is a scheme to increase higher education participation from groups and communities in Wales by raising aspirations and creating new study opportunities and learning pathways to higher education with Community First Schools. These remain under-represented within higher education.
Kayleigh says: “I didn’t think I was very good at anything. I was moving round schools quite a bit but stayed in Stacey Road Primary School until Year 6.
“Coming to stay at Cyncoed Campus for a couple of nights really opened my eyes to University as a realistic option for me. Sitting in one of the lecture halls being told about different options on how to get into university, it all became clear to me. You don’t have to come from a rich family or a proper family and don’t have to have loads of money yourself or the highest qualifications, which is what I had always thought. You just have to have the drive and the passion to make it work for you.
“I vividly remember one of the sport coaches [Dai Watts] saying I was good at it – it was the first time I had been told I was good at anything and it felt brilliant.
“I realised I wanted to be the first in my family to go to university and graduate. It became an aspiration for me. It got to the point where it wasn’t an option that I wouldn’t go. It’s what I worked towards from then on.”
Kayleigh, who is one of six children, left foster care at 16, moved around the UK and had to spend a period of time living in a refuge with her first child. Two years after that, she turned her life around, moved back to Wales and enrolled on an Access course at Coleg Glan Hafren. She had previously applied for a similar course in Sheffield, but explains, “They didn’t really want me, because I had a child and was pregnant. Glan Hafren was much more child friendly.”
Kayleigh has juggled three jobs with her course and childcare and says: “I had left Llantarnam Comprehensive School with 11 A-C grades after working really hard. Because I was in care, I had no choice about which GCSEs I was put on and the Health and Social Care course was allocated to me. I was playing catch-up from the start and would go to the library every lunchtime to get my head down. My teachers didn’t realise my background so I wasn’t offered any additional support.
“I also came away with an award for being the student who had worked the hardest. I was really surprised that anybody had noticed how well I had done. I was proud that I had done it, but at the same time upset that no-one apart from my foster family was there for me to watch me be given it.
“I’ve always had to be resourceful. Gaining an education has enabled me to build on this and to develop various skills and attributes that I may not have learned through average life experiences. This will definitely assist with future endevours - public presentations and speaking for example will definitely help with my confidence when going for potential job interviews.
“On a personal level, studying at Cardiff Met has helped build further on my development and academic progression which in turn gives me further self worth; that I have accomplished and achieved. I have accomplished my life long dream of attending university and graduating.
“Having a degree should enable me to progress with my ambition of gaining a Masters, but in the meantime it will help open doors to employment that may not have previously been possible. I'm hoping that I also serve as a role model for others who wish to pursue their academic ambitions, but I particularly want to inspire my children and those in a similar position to me or anyone else at all, to know that university is achievable. That would be a reward in itself for me going and completing my degree.”
Kayleigh, who started university when her children were five and two has stated that her children will go to university and laughs, “It’s non-negotiable. If they choose not to, they will have to outline a five year plan for me to let them not go. It is so important to learn and expand. University sets you up for life.
“I’ve got my little people now and there is no way they will ever go through what I had to go through.”