Widening Participation Officer — Dr Jonathan Padley, originally from Swansea, has just completed a week-long tour of South Wales to inspire 875 teenagers to enter top universities.

Dr Padley regularly visits schools and colleges in Wales. But last week, he achieved the ambitious target of meeting the majority of Year 13 state school applicants to Oxford and Cambridge from South Wales and Powys, as well as launching a new access programme for Year 12s, and speaking to GCSE students at a variety of school events. By the end of the week, Dr Padley had met 875 students (Year 10-13) and 80 teachers from 71 schools and colleges.

The trip included seven Seren hub events for Year 12-13 students, parents and teachers at: Bassaleg School (Newport); Neath Port Talbot College (Neath); Gower College Swansea (Gorseinon); Bryn Hafren Comprehensive School (Barry); Whitchurch High School (Cardiff); Coleg y Cymoedd (Nantgarw); and Queen Elizabeth High School (Carmarthen). In total, the Seren events were attended by more than 550 students from across South Wales and Powys. The students received invaluable advice on fine-tuning applications to top universities and preparing for academic interviews, using Brexit as a prompt for debate.

Ceri Richmond, Assistant Headteacher, Y Pant Comprehensive School (Rhondda Cynon Taf) said:

“Locally, we see students who’re very bright but sometimes don’t have strong aspirations. Having the Seren Network as part of their lives has let some of them come back with a totally renewed attitude. Coming to these sessions and being involved with other students who are of the same calibre, lets them debate and talk through subject areas. Seeing Jonathan as a Welsh boy, having the credibility of coming from Cambridge, reiterating the messages that we give them – I think we’re actually breaking down barriers. I’ve already had students saying “I didn’t think it was for me but now I think it is”, and being so enthusiastic ever since.”

One of Ceri’s students, Hannah Mealey, said:

“This programme has been one of the most helpful things I’ve ever done. It’s given me insight into how to write a personal statement and how to behave at interview – I was worried about how it’d be, but it’s not as daunting as it seems. Seren has been amazing. If it wasn’t for Seren, I wouldn’t even be applying for Anglo-Saxon, Norse, and Celtic — I wouldn’t have known it even existed.”

In Swansea, 310 Year 12 students and 79 parents, carers and teachers attended the launch of the fifth year of Cambridge’s HE+ programme at Gower College Swansea. The event included subject-specific activities for the students and introducing them to the consortium staff who will ‘stretch’ them through super-curricular classes across the coming year.

Mark Jones, Principal of Gower College Swansea said:

“We are delighted to be part of the HE+ programme and we’re grateful for the continued support of Cambridge University. Today, we’ve seen over 300 youngsters, all with very strong GCSEs, all looking to be inspired. Tonight was another fantastic night – a lot of excitement; a lot of young, eager minds, thinking about the future. This is what education is all about.”

Speaking about his trip, Dr Padley said:

“It’s been a real joy to spend a week in Wales, meeting so many inspiring people – 875 students and 80 teachers. I’m grateful to colleagues in schools, colleges, and the Seren Network who’ve helped organise the eleven events I’ve been involved in. Without their brilliant work, we couldn’t hope to engage young people so efficiently and effectively.

“This week has shown me, yet again, that the level of academic excellence in Wales is exceptionally high, and that many of the country’s students rightly aspire to world-leading higher education when they leave school or college.

“They are exactly the sort of students that Cambridge and universities like it are looking for. We hope they will apply, we wish them every success, and we will keep working with teachers and parents across Wales to support the country’s brightest young people to aim high.”

Schools and colleges liaison at Churchill

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Photo: Rhondda/Merthyr Seren event. Left to right: Hannah Mealey, David King, Natalia Denisluc and Dr Jonathan Padley.