Dr Sharon Drew
A University of South Wales lecturer and occupational therapist has achieved her PhD and turned her passion into a career – despite leaving school with barely any qualifications.
Dr Sharon Drew, who teaches on the Masters in SEN (special educational needs) at USW, struggled at school and found learning very difficult.
But, after returning to education in her thirties, she discovered her passion for helping children with dyspraxia and DCD (developmental co-ordination disorder).
The 59-year-old, who lives in Usk, grew up in Cwmbran and attended one of the county’s first secondary schools, but feels she may have had some additional learning needs that were never diagnosed.
“I hated school. I was very quiet and shy, and never found that learning came easy to me,” said Sharon.
“Children like me, who sit quietly at the back of the class rather than being naughty and disruptive, can often be overlooked because they are assumed to be getting on with their work.
“I managed to scrape a handful of grades, but essentially I left school at 16 with no real qualifications.
“I lived on a council estate and both my parents were factory workers. At that time, there were low expectations of school leavers; you either went to work in a factory, a shop, or – if you were bright enough – you could become a nurse or a teacher.
“I always wanted to be a nurse, but I didn’t have the qualifications and my parents couldn’t afford to send me to college. So I got a job in a shop at the age of 16, and when I was 19 I applied to be an auxiliary nurse at a local hospital.”
Sharon hoped this would be her route into nursing, but without the qualifications, she needed to re-sit her GCSEs.
Having met her husband Martin, he encouraged her to take her exams, and she studied Biology, Sociology and Law through distance learning – gaining very good results.
“As an adult learner, you have a different attitude towards studying,” added Sharon. I did really well that time around because they were subjects that I was interested in.”
After gaining her GCSEs, Sharon started work as an Occupational Therapy Assistant at a healthcare setting in Cwmbran which cared for adults with severe learning disabilities.
“At the interview, my boss asked me if I would be interested in training to become an Occupational Therapist through a new ‘in-service’ course. Naturally I jumped at the chance,” she said.
“Having worked as an Occupational Therapist, working with children for a number of years, I felt I needed to add to my skills. That’s when I did my Masters in Special Educational Needs.”
Following this, Sharon completed the PcET (post-compulsory education & training) qualification and a Diploma in SpLD (specific learning difficulties) to continue her passion.
Sharon was asked by colleagues at USW if she’d be interested in a teaching role, which she has thoroughly enjoyed ever since.
This led to Sharon embarking on her PhD by portfolio. Over the past 20 years she has written several practical resources for teachers and parents, based on her experience of working with schools.
Her work has taken her beyond South Wales and she now works closely with Dyspraxia/DCD Ireland, a charity which aims to raise awareness of the difficulties people with Dyspraxia and DCD face. Sharon has also travelled to New Zealand twice to speak at their national Dyspraxia conference.
“My journey through education has led me to places that I never would have envisaged,” she said.
“From a 16-year-old kid with no confidence in my ability to learn, to being able to turn something I love into my career, has been amazing. It still doesn’t come easy to me, and I have to work doubly hard, but my experience just goes to show that it’s never too late to learn.
“So many of the students on the courses I teach are coming to university in their thirties or older, with family lives and work to juggle alongside their education. I know how it feels to be in their shoes. The students bring with them work and life experience which is invaluable as they undertake their studies.”