In early March we held the mid-point events of our AQA Unlocking Potential programme in Manchester & Guildford with students and teachers from 20 schools joining athletes and volunteers from AQA, in two days of activities, planning sessions and fun. Little did we know that just a few weeks later, schools would be closed, we’d all be working from home where we could and millions of people would be furloughed from their work.

The programme normally involves our athletes visiting the students in school so obviously all sessions went on hold straight away, but very quickly we managed to keep some programmes going. Indeed, in the first week of lockdown, Kelvin Batey delivered a session remotely to four students to maintain some continuity and by mid May, we were running virtual programmes in 11 out of the 20 schools involved in the programme. This involved a huge amount of work behind the scenes from our Programmes Team, contacting teachers, creating new processes around virtual deliveries and moving a classroom-based programme online.

For most schools, we moved to doing group sessions via Zoom with both the athlete mentor and the teacher involved on the call. Athlete mentor and badminton star Jenny Wallwork has been delivering such sessions to Woodkirk Academy in Wakefield.

The sessions have gone really well, the group were great. We had a really good catch up & focused on the five ways to wellbeing and kicked off planning new ideas for their social action project.


Students from Woodkirk Academy pre lockdown and on a Zoom call.

Feedback from the students has also been really positive:

During lockdown, psychological barriers have escalated, deteriorated and toughened, so having the opportunity to make contact with Jenny, has made these lockdown challenges much more manageable and accessible.

Jenny has shown support and helped develop our ideas when thinking about the social action projects and she gave us helpful hints on how to make our presentations good despite our nerves. She is also very positive which made it easier to present our ideas and she has supported us by giving us helpful ways to stay happy and active during lockdown.

Emma teaches at Woodkirk Academy and says the programme has been great for the students:

The online sessions have provided a much needed focus, especially as all the students involved have been affected by the cancellation of exams. They have been able to come together again for vital peer to peer support as well as being in contact with Jenny and her never ending enthusiasm, positivity and unwavering care. The idea to put together a video to provide support, challenges and positive messages for others during this testing time has reingnited the enthusiasm they had during the sessions in school and in Manchester and has solidified the confidence and resilience that they built during this time as well as boosting their mental wellbeing especially with the focus on the five steps to wellbeing. I was so pleased to see the group back together and their confidence in sharing ideas and communicating through a medium they had never used before. 

Ethos College is an alternative provision school based in Batley, near Leeds. According to athlete mentor, Paul Broadbent the students have really engaged with the programme during the lockdown period:

The school have been great at supporting the students and keeping in close contact with them during the lockdown period. Discussing the programme with the teachers and students, we decided initially it would be better to continue the sessions on a one to one basis rather than a group session. The lads have really responded well to this, they’ve been really switched on and engaged throughout the sessions and there have been some really positive, mature discussions. One student said they feel able to focus more now because there are less distractions and less chance to react negatively to other people so on the whole, they’re feeling more stable.

Before the lockdown period, they were really keen to do a fitness challenge based social action project to raise funds for autism so we’re getting together as a group next week to see if there’s a way we can continue with that virtually.

Over the next few weeks, the groups will be delivering their social action projects virtually and in July, everyone will come together for a virtual celebration event. This year, the event was due to be held at London Zoo which sadly can’t happen but we are working hard behind the scenes to make the virtual event as enjoyable and memorable as possible.  

AQA Unlocking Potential is a transformation mentoring programme delivered in schools all across England by Dame Kelly Holmes Trust in partnership with AQA. We’d also like to thank players of People's Postcode Lottery for their support which allows to reach more students with this programme.