Sean is not only the first in his family to go to University, he is the first to take A Levels.
Both of Sean’s parents come from a Traveller background, although by the time he was born they had settled down and were living in a council house near Chelmsford.
At 54, his father can neither read nor write - he had no education to speak of, and spent no more than a few weeks here and there in school. His mum attended more regularly, but her family’s nomadic lifestyle meant she often changed schools. She was offered a place at college, but didn’t go, because once again her family were on the move.
However, she could see the benefits of education and encouraged her children – Sean and his brothers and sister – every step of the way.
Astonishingly Sean could read and write by the time he was two-and-a-half. All four children completed their GCSEs at a local comprehensive, but Sean, a high-achiever at both school and sixth form, was the only one to go on to A Levels and then university.
“I had the ability and privilege to go to secondary school and got some really decent grades so just wanted to see if I could do something better with my life. My teachers really encouraged me, one English teacher in particular constantly supported me, and I just wanted to make my family proud,” said Sean.
On the advice of his mother Sean has, until very recently, always kept his Traveller background hidden, to avoid hostility.
As he explained: “Travellers are stigmatised and hated. We have a reputation for crime and violence. There are some who will commit crime and violence to conform to their stereotype, but we are not all like that, although it seems one bad apple taints the whole tree. There was a key insightful moment in a life skills class when I was in year 9 or 10 at school. The subject of Travellers came up. I just kept quiet, but there were some pretty nasty comments made. To be in a position of watching other people validate your existence is not fun.”
Since starting at Essex Sean has found the confidence to be more open about his background and has been pleasantly surprised to find he has not experienced hostility.
But he is very much aware that that’s not the case for most Travellers: “My hope is that one day all Travellers can be open about their backgrounds without the fear of being abused or being abusive in return. But for that to happen people need to understand our history and culture a bit more. I have got a lot to learn myself, but I just wish people were more educated. If we could sort the problem of how people judge us, everything else will sort itself out.“
As for his own aspirations – Sean plans to become a teacher and his dad is his first pupil: “I am trying to get him into reading, using audio books."