Care leaver, Sam Gardner scoops Inspire! Award to recognise his University achievements.


Sam always dreamed of becoming a primary school teacher so at the age of 18 he embarked on a BA Honours degree in Education Studies at University of Wales Trinity Saint David.

Coming from a care background with limited contact with his family, the isolation Sam felt during his studies soon became problematic. He spent his first Christmas alone in his student accommodation while others returned home to parents and loved ones.

Over the next year or so that loneliness became a prominent feature of his life and although he did then manage to spend key holiday periods with previous foster parents and sometimes friends, it was a struggle for him. Sam’s grades were not the highest within his cohort but his ambition to succeed certainly was and he continued to make progress.

As time went on it was clear that Sam was struggling with anxiety and depression and by the middle of what should have been his final year of studies he was no longer coping, the lack of a support structure outside university meant that he felt he was unable to continue.

Sam made the decision that he would take a break from his studies and return in the following academic year for a fresh start, to give him the best chance to improve his grades and attain his degree.  He returned to his studies for his final year stronger, more confident and determined to succeed. He successfully completed his degree and graduated in the summer of 2015. He went on to secure a job as a teaching assistant and then applied to complete his PGCE qualification. Sam has showed determination and resilience despite his adverse life experiences and is now about to achieve his dream of becoming a fully qualified teacher.

He said: "I believe that education is a tool that empowers, opens our minds and enables us to become socially mobile. I have never let me past define me but believe that they have only made me stronger and more determined to succeed. I will continue to speak and write and behalf of looked after children who lack voice or are underrepresented. You can achieve no matter what your circumstance. Grasp education with both hands. It opens doors, builds your character and mind.”

The Inspire! Awards are hosted each year ahead of Adult Learners’ Week to celebrate the achievements of outstanding learners in Wales who have shown exceptional passion, commitment and drive for learning; often in the face of difficult circumstances, as well as employers who champion learning in the workplace.

UWTSD's Caroline Lewis, Programme Director, BA (Hons) Education Studies said: "Sam will finish his studies next year and after graduation will finally become a qualified teacher. Staff here at UWTSD who know Sam and his background regard him as an inspiration to other individuals, a young man who has succeeded despite the odds and a worthy candidate for such an award which recognises the determination and resilience he has displayed despite his adverse life experiences”.     

Organised by Learning and Work Institute with the financial backing of the Welsh Government and the European Social Fund, this year’s Adult Learners’ Week runs from 19th–25th June and celebrates lifelong learning; whether work-based, as part of a community education course, at college, university or online. Now celebrating its 26th year, it aims to promote the range of courses available to adult learners; from computing and childcare to business and languages.

Commenting on the Inspire! Awards, Minister for Skills and Science, Julie James, said: "Learning doesn’t stop once you leave school. This year’s Inspire! Award winners prove how powerful both formal and informal learning can be at any age, with inspirational tales of people from different backgrounds across the nation overcoming obstacles to build new lives. I would like to congratulate them all on their outstanding achievements.

"Throughout Adult Learners’ Week, we want to encourage adults across Wales to find out more about their skills and career options by joining one of the many free learners’ events in their area. Adults can also access the Skills Gateway to get careers advice and guidance, whether they want to improve their skills and employability or get back into work."

David Hagendyk, Director of Learning and Work Institute Wales, said: "The Inspire! Awards show how learning can really change lives. We hope people feel empowered by the winners’ stories and make the most of Adult Learners’ Week to get involved in local opportunities and seize the moment – whether you are stuck in a rut, want to make a change or brush up on your skills, Adult Learners’ Week could be just the boost you need to help improve your current situation through learning."

For more information on Adult Learners’ Week, go to the Welsh Government’s Skills Gateway for Adults at, call 0800 028 4844 or follow @skillsgatewaycw

Further Information

Rebecca Davies

Swyddog Gweithredol Cysylltiadau â’r Wasg a’r Cyfryngau
Executive Press and Media Relations Officer
Cyfathrebu Corfforaethol a Chysylltiadau Cyhoeddus
Corporate Communications and PR

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