I attended the AQA Unlocking Potential programme back in 2019 while I was at Parkside School. I originally said No to doing the programme as I had no real confidence back then, but it was my Mum that persuaded me to do it. Back then I said No to pretty much everything but after attending the programme I now say Yes to everything!

Before I started the programme, my life was quite boring to be honest! I played football for a local team but that was about it. I had just started sixth form and had a real lack of confidence and didn’t feel I had anything to work towards. Attending the programme really gave me something to look forward to.

Working with my athlete mentor James Kirton was really good. He was down to earth and easy to talk to and it was good to work with someone different, but who’d achieved amazing things like going to the Olympics.

The most challenging part of the programme for me was the first session in Manchester, knowing that it was going to be such a big group of people that I didn’t know. I didn’t really like meeting new people back then and it was part of the reason I said no to the programme originally, but by the end of the day after meeting all the athletes and other participants I decided it was okay!

Matt Barratt, Teacher at Parkside School

The programme has made a huge difference to Sophie. Without question it has enabled her to become the outstanding young adult that we saw within her. All aspects of the programme have helped transform her confidence and it has been fantastic to see.

As a school we’re humbled and privileged to be part of the programme, we’re so thankful to be involved.

The most useful part of the programme was doing the Dragon’s Den pitch of our social action project at the mid-point event in Manchester. I found it so hard to do, I couldn’t make eye contact with the judges, but I got loads of great positive feedback from them and other people there on the day. Afterwards I felt like it was just a massive sigh of relief and knowing that I could do something like that was just the confidence boost I needed.

Over the course of the programme, I learned loads of useful skills that I’m really putting into practice every day now, things like communication and interpersonal skills, it also gave me a real motivation to succeed. The way our school ran the programme, we were given two Year Seven students to mentor. I originally thought ‘Oh no,’ as I thought it would be pretty difficult, but I really enjoyed it. I saw a lot of me in them at that age. I tried to help them make the most of every day, enjoy it while you can, try and get them excited about school. They were great and I still speak to them now.

Sophie and fellow students from Parkside attending the AQA Celebration Event in summer 2019

So many of the skills I learned on the programme I’m using now in my physiotherapy course at York St Johns University, it’s been so essential for where I’m going to end up in a few years’ time. The development of interpersonal, motivational and communication skills allow my future patients to get the best out of my treatment and care. Through motivation it will allow them to become as independent as possible, which is what the programme did for me. It was always on my mind to try and go to university but without the programme I don’t think I’d have been doing as well as I am now. It’s been so challenging with COVID, but the skills I learned have helped me thrive.

I never knew how much I needed something like this programme until I did it. I didn’t really appreciate at the time but looking back I can see the difference it made. Going to university was always there in my mind, but I was very unsure if I could actually do it. Attending AQA Unlocking Potential gave me the confidence and motivation to go there and get on the path to my dream job.


AQA Unlocking Potential is funded by education charity AQA and each year sees 80 students from 20 schools across England receive mentoring from one of our world class athletes. Find out more about the programme here.