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Innovative Practice - Right on track

Young people are paired with sports stars to work on social action projects in their local communities

Young people are paired with sports stars to work on social action projects in their local communities

The background

An exam board and an athletics star might seem an unlikely combination. However, the project Unlocking Potential was developed jointly by AQA and the trust set up by double Olympic gold medallist Dame Kelly Holmes.

The targeted mentoring programme has enabled 20 young people aged between 14 and 19 to pair up with sports mentors on projects across the country. These include Olympic and Commonwealth Games swimmer Adam Whitehead; judo Olympian Chloe Cowen; and Jenna Downing, a world champion extreme inline skater.

The young people chosen to participate in the programme were nominated by their teachers for showing commitment and integrity in the face of challenging personal circumstances.

Holmes (pictured, right) says: "It was my PE teacher, Debbie Page at Hugh Christie School in Tonbridge, who identified my talent and set me on the path to achieve my dream of becoming double Olympic champion. She went the extra mile, and that's what the teachers, combined with the support of athletes from my charity, have done on the Unlocking Potential programme."

The project

Each of the young participants is expected to run a social action project in their local community, which could be anything from tackling antisocial behaviour to improving recycling.

The six-month mentoring programme started with the selection of the 20 young people in May this year, after which they and the teachers who nominated them travelled to London for a "national day" where they met their athlete mentors for the first time. Over the following month, participants also met their mentors for a one-to-one in their local area to work together to plan their social action projects.

Participants' ideas have included collecting books to send to schools in Africa; an activity day with a local fire crew for young people aged 8 to 15; and a swimming gala to raise awareness of disability. The athlete mentors have also helped the young people to apply for funding.

Over the summer many of the participants turned their plans into reality. The young people are continuing to work with their mentors to deliver their projects, until the culmination of the programme at an awards ceremony in London this month.

The scheme was operated by the Dame Kelly Holmes Legacy Trust, with funding from AQA.

Tips from the scheme

Every young person's needs, project and progress is different - some will have a clear idea of what they want to get from the programme, others will need more help.

Mentors need to be flexible. Neil Danns, a former European skateboarding champion, telephones one of the young people he is mentoring twice a week, in addition to their planned one-to-one sessions.

"National days", at which all of the participants met their teachers and athlete mentors, have provided a focal point and helped to boost confidence.

Evidence that it works?

Five social action projects have already been successfully completed. The response to the programme from its participants and their teachers has been overwhelmingly positive.

AQA has been impressed by the young people's work. Andrew Hall, chief executive, says: "It seemed right to be doing this in 2012, with the excitement of the Olympics, but it's been such a success we have decided it will continue."


Approach: Unlocking Potential partners young people with athletes on social action projects

Developed by: Dame Kelly Holmes Legacy Trust and AQA

Launched: 2012

Age range: 14-19

Number of young people involved so far: 20.

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