Martha and her daughter, Israel, both collected their degrees this week from the University of Exeter. Photography: Rogier Bos

Mother and daughter graduate at the same time – and both plan to become teachers

A mother of five who studied for a degree as a mature student despite not attending secondary school has graduated at the same time as her daughter.

Martha Abley-Mallett, 42, and Israel Gayton, 21, both collected their degrees this week from the University of Exeter.

Mrs Abley-Mallet was home schooled as a child after the age of 11, but as her own children grew up she became keen to experience higher education too.

After completing an access course she started her psychology degree at the University of Exeter three years ago, at the same time as Miss Gayton started a degree in English.

Mrs Abley-Mallett and Miss Gayton have spent time together on campus during their degree studies, and supported each other as they complete their courses. But while Miss Gayton has had the usual student experience, Mrs Abley-Mallett has fitted studying around looking after her four other children, who are aged between 19 and ten.

Both women will now stay on at the University of Exeter together to train to be teachers. Mrs Abley-Mallett is completing her PGCE through Exeter College and the University of Exeter and hopes to teach psychology to A-level students. Miss Gayton will complete her PGCE in English at the University of Exeter and hopes to teach in secondary schools.

“Going to university has been a massive change for me. My parents decided I should be home schooled. Then I was a full-time mum and was apprehensive about education,” Mrs Abley-Mallett said.

“But as my children grew up I realised I wanted to see if I could get a degree. I didn’t know how I was going to cope and it has been a huge change but a brilliant one. I think as a mature student you really grab the opportunity and appreciate the chance you have been given.

“It has been quite a journey and a mammoth achievement for me but I’m so proud I have done it, and of course I am very proud of Israel too. Graduating has meant so much for both of us.”

Miss Gayton said: “In the first year we used to sometimes meet on campus for a cup of coffee, but other than that we didn’t really see each other. We were based in different buildings. Mum spent more time at home studying whereas I worked on campus more. It wasn’t that we were avoiding each other!”

Mrs Abley-Mallett, who lives in the outskirts of Exeter with husband Steve, said: “I was conscious of not wanting to invade Israel’s space. Being a student is an important experience for her and she needed to do that herself, so there was no way I was going to spend all my time hanging out with her and her friends.”

Miss Gayton, who was a student at Clyst Vale Community College, lived in student accommodation during her first two years of study, but moved back home for the last. She and her mum worked in different places in the house, Mrs Abley-Mallett in the kitchen and Miss Gayton in her bedroom.

“I needed quiet but mum likes background noise, so we didn’t sit and work together. We did proof-read each other’s work though,” Miss Gayton said.

“I chose Exeter because I didn’t want to move away to another part of the country just yet. I was really impressed with the university when I came to open days, and because of that and the fact that it is one of the best places in the country to study English, the choice to come here was really a no-brainer.”

Date: 21 July 2017