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Profile: Matthew Alleyne
Role: Student Ambassador
Place of Study: Aimhigher London East Thames Gateway
What is your role?
I help to talk to people about what they want out of life, the best ways to go about it, how to get the best out of their courses, and I talk about my experiences as a disabled person as well.
Who do you support? Is it one particular group of students?
Different students across the board, as long as they’ve got disabilities it doesn’t matter what background they come from.
Why did you go to university?
I thought that going to university would take me to another level that I wanted to get to, enhance my career prospects, help me to meet some new people and do things that I’d never done before. I think it’s done that. It taught me a lot throughout the time I was there.
How did you decide which university to go to?
I just waited and went through ‘clearing’. I looked at the brochures, saw what courses interested me, and went to the uni that did the courses that interested me. It turned out that the uni I went to was near my house, and I didn’t have to travel very far.
What was the support like?
The support department was really good, they catered for dyslexia and various disabilities, and the support I had was really good. If I had any problems, they were really helpful, and that helped me a lot.
How did you sort out your support?
I was working for the local authority that I had to go through anyway, so I knew the people that I had to deal with. I was working in their office for four years, so they virtually knew what I wanted and I told them what I needed and they helped me to make sure it was right and get the money to get the support that I needed.
Would you recommend going to university to young disabled people and why?
I would recommend it to anyone. I think that it helps you to learn about yourself and learn who you are. It stretches you to achieve things that you never thought possible. You get to meet people from various different backgrounds, maybe different countries as well. When they bring their experiences to yours, it helps you to have a broader idea of what’s out there, because living in England you can only see one scenario happening. When you go to uni and meet all those people you realise there’s a lot more out there to do and see.
Why did you become a Student Ambassador?
I just thought that because of all the bad things that I went through when I was young, if I could help someone avoid some of what I went through by talking about my experiences, and helping people to explore what’s out there then, it would be worthwhile. I think it’s really good.
Could you give an idea of a typical school visit/ambassador event?
They do vary, but typically we work in small groups and it would run over, say five or six sessions, so it wouldn’t be done in one go.
Initially on the first couple of sessions it’s just about building up trust, talking about experiences so the kids get to know you and get to know you’re genuine, get to know your face and get to know what you’re about. After that you can gradually build up where you want to go with it and what you want to do. It depends a lot on what the kids want to do. A lot of the time, they might want to talk about experiences, they might not be ready to talk about going to uni.
Just sitting down, talking with them and spending a bit of time might be enough and might help them focus a bit more clearly on what they want to do in future. Also, seeing someone that’s been to uni as well, they know that it can be achieved, so it’s quite good, it’s a good thing.
We would like to work with staff as well. I think it’s important to work with staff so that their eyes are opened to what’s out there, what can be done. Maybe, though not meaning to be negative, sometimes staff can be too negative when it comes to disabilities, or too protective or something like that. So, maybe working with them and talking to them about what’s happening, even just to get a feeling of how they go about things, how they feel about things, works as well. It makes them feel included and then they’ll be better at their job and more open to suggestions.
How do you help students prepare for transition to FE and HE?
As an ambassador it’s mainly just trying to make kids realise that it can be done but it won’t be easy; the buildings will be bigger, there will be more of a range of people. Just generally, it’s making them focus on what they want to do, making sure that they meet the disability advisor at both college or at uni, get to speak to them, make sure they get a vibe for the place before they go anywhere.
We try to make sure their family’s involved because getting families involved is important as well - making sure the family’s behind the idea and backing the kids up 100%.
If necessary you can have a uni visit when the kids are with you to get a feel for the place, so that they know that there’s support there if something’s wrong or they feel that it’s not for them. We make sure that the choices are put out before them so that if they choose the wrong course, they know they can turn around and back off and do something different. It’s not locked in stone or anything.
What are some of the most common questions that disabled pupils ask you?
I haven’t got a common question, they’re all really different. It depends on the kids as individuals. They basically want to know what I was like when I was growing up, what I had to go through, what was my support like when I went to uni, how did I find it, what to look out for, who to ask, and ways of getting their parents involved as well.
Do you think parents should meet ambassadors as well?
Yes, definitely. When I went to university and when I was at school there wasn’t much for support for my parents. I don’t think my parents knew what was out there. Not a lot was explained, and if it had been I think it would have gone a lot smoother.
When you’re disabled people don’t tell you what you’re entitled to or what you’ve got to do. You’ve got to go out and search for it yourself. A lot of the time parents are just not aware of what’s out there and the more people that talk to them and say this is what’s available, the smoother things will go.
What do you think disabled students need to know about as they make choices?
They need to know about role models as early as possible, if possible from primary school, to know that this can be done, there are people with good jobs, leading fulfilling lives out there, doing things.
It’s not going to be easy, don’t get me wrong, but, if you can educate a child from early on to tell them they’re worth something, it’s going to be easier for them to adapt when they do leave school and when they do go to uni and when they’re in jobs. I never got that when I was at school at all. No one encouraged me to do anything, so the earlier you can encourage someone with disabilities to do something, the better for them.
What are the highlights of your role?
Meeting the kids, I like meeting the kids and hearing what they have to say. I learn a lot from them as well, it’s not just me talking all the time. When I’m there I don’t talk that much and they seem to talk to me about what they’ve been through, what they want to do and want to know how we can help them do this.
It would be good if the budget for the scheme was a bit bigger, then we could do a lot more, but we’re very limited in what we can do and the amount of time we can spend with them. It would be good in future if the project gets more money so we can do more.
Do you have a message for staff who work with disabled young people about transition from school?
Yes, just be aware that they’re going through this, and it’s not easy. It’s not easy to explain what you’re going through when you’re a disabled person anyway, but far less as a teenager. It’s not really easy to reach out to people and explain what’s going on, so be a bit aware and tolerant. Listen to what they’ve got to say, and help with anything you can, or come and see someone like a student ambassador. Just sit down and talk even if you don’t do anything else, because they might get a lot from it.
Is there anything else you want to share?
I haven’t been doing this long, so I hope to be doing it in the future. Hopefully we can meet a lot more people and help some of them along the way.
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