2021 marks the ten-year anniversary of the Unlocking Potential partnership between Dame Kelly Holmes Trust and AQA. The launch events in Manchester and Guildford were attended by students and teachers from the participating schools where they met their athlete mentors for the first time.

Since its conception, nearly 600 young people have attended the national programme at schools all over the country.  Delivered by world-class athletes - trained up by the Trust to use their unique experience from the world of competitive sport to mentor young people - the transformational programmes are designed to improve wellbeing, help build healthy relationships and unlock the confidence, self-esteem and resilience needed to achieve in education, work and life.

The launch event introduces the 80 young people on this year's programme to their athlete mentors and they start to understand what this programme is all about. Starting off with ice breakers, everyone soon gets involved and by lunchtime students from different schools are working together on team building activities. Students who were quiet at the start of the day are busy working together to guess the celebrity, complete a playing card challenge and cheer on their champion in the biggest game of rock, paper, scissors you'll ever see! After lunch there are more team building activities and the athletes share their stories which gives a deeper insight to the students about the resilience and determination needed to be a successful athlete and how important these skills are in everyday life.

Claire Bennett, athlete mentor and former Great Britain fencer and Commonwealth Gold medallist said:

AQA Unlocking Potential is a fantastic programme and it was amazing to return to face-to-face events after almost two years of virtual delivery. It’s great to see the young people interact with each other and build their confidence throughout the day. You can already see the transformation in them after just one day and all the athlete mentors are really looking forward to the next eight months!


Ice breakers and team building sessions.

Children and young people have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic through breaks in education and being isolated from their peers, with many lacking access to the adequate technology for home learning and in too many cases, even access to sufficient food. Government statistics show a widening gap in recovery learning in secondary schools in disadvantaged areas. Research from the Prince’s Trust in 2021 shows that 56% of young people are feeling anxious, compared to just 19% in 2010. The recent YouGov-Cambridge Globalism Survey reports that half of 18-24yr olds in the UK say the pandemic badly affected their mental health.  

The need for programmes such as AQA Unlocking Potential is greater than ever. Despite the challenging circumstances of the past two years, on a nationally recognised scale, participants’ wellbeing increased by 10% over the course of the programme, with positive changes noted in all areas of confidence, self-esteem and resilience. Their teachers reported significant improvements in their teachability and behaviour, and recognised an uplift across the board in life skills needed within the education environment and for future work. Last year’s programme reached students who needed support more than ever before. 43% were eligible for free school meals while 37% had a below average attendance record before the programme.

Athletes at the Manchester launch event.

Each school will be visited three times now by their athlete mentor before meeting up in Manchester and Guildford again for mid-point events in March next year. We'll be following their journeys on social media so be sure to follow the Trust on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and look out for the hashtag #AQAUnlockingPotential.

AQA Unlocking Potential is a transformational mentoring programme for students aged from 11-19 years of age, delivered in partnership between education charityAQA and Dame Kelly Holmes Trust.