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Taster for higher life

The pupils sit down in the lecture hall. The tables squeak, there is a talk to listen to and an audio-visual to watch. So far, so like school.

But before any hint of boredom can creep across their faces, a film featuring white-knuckle bicycle stunts, people kayaking downstairs and a taped-up student emerging from a wheelie-bin soon has everyone's attention.

"It's not all hard slog and study," says Stewart Laing, a sports and science PhD student at University of Wales, Bangor. "That's the film one student made of his last year here."

The Year 10 pupils from Rhyl high school are clearly won over. They have already spent a night in the halls of residence, breakfasted in the refectory and visited the students' union as part of this residential introduction to university.

Coming from a school in one of Wales's most socially deprived towns, many are being brought up by single parents and others are from families with no tradition of higher education.

A high rate of transience, with many pupils originating from the north-west of England and the Midlands, means some do not start and finish their education in the same school.

These are exactly the children Bangor's talent opportunities programme is aimed at. Begun in 1998, it was acclaimed recently as a model of good practice for raising the aspirations of young people who might otherwise never consider higher education.

Rhyl is one of eight schools across north Wales involved in the scheme.

Currently, 63 per cent of their pupils go on to higher education, rising to 70 per cent after a gap year.

Erika Kendrick, acting head of Y10, says: "For some who were borderline before they came, it's given them an added incentive to apply for university. It's also given them an idea of what the life is like. Some have never slept in a room on their own before and were quite nervous about it."

The 80-strong group of 14-year-olds visited departments including modern languages and law. And in the sports science labs they were treated to the sort of performance tests wannabe Olympians are put through.

"I wasn't sure about what I was going to do, but coming here has made me interested in doing law," says Amy Griffiths, 14, who would be the first in her family to go to university. "It looks like you can have a good time.

And it's easier to get a job with a degree."

That might not be quite the case for Jamie Beattie, 14, who wants to be a professional footballer.

"But a sport science degree would help," he says, as his classmates charge up and down the gym trying to beat their own times.

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