Rhondda student calls on more Valleys learners to reach for the stars

A star student from the Rhondda valleys who had life-changing study opportunities at world-leading universities during his A Levels is hoping to inspire the next generation of Welsh students to dream big, regardless of their background or where they are from.

Bailey James, 18, from Maerdy, is set to start a Law degree at Durham University later this week after securing an outstanding 4A*s in his A-levels and impressing admissions staff with an extensive resume of experience that included attending prestigious summer schools at both Oxford University and Princeton in America.

The former Tonyrefail Community School student, who will be the first member of his family to go to university, now hopes to encourage more students from the valleys to aim high and have the belief that they can apply to leading institutions in Wales, the UK and overseas.

Despite joining sixth form armed with good GCSE results, Bailey initially lacked self-confidence and thought that achieving straight A* grades or getting into a world-leading university would be beyond his reach.

However, the support of Seren – a Welsh Government funded scheme designed to help Wales’ brightest students to achieve their academic potential and go on to leading universities – inspired him to believe in himself and gave him the motivation to reach for the stars.

The Seren programme provides high achieving students with access to masterclasses and workshops across a range of subject areas to develop their knowledge and interest, support with university applications as well as encouragement to attend university summer schools.

After attending Seren’s 2018 launch event in Cardiff, where he spoke with representatives from a range of top UK and international universities, Bailey decided to apply for competitive residential summer programmes offered by Jesus College, Oxford University and Princeton – successfully getting into both. The experiences gave him an insight into life at those universities, with Bailey living and socialising on campus as well as attending challenging undergraduate-level lectures and seminars.

Bailey said: “When I applied to the summer schools, I never actually thought that I would get in, so I was completely over the moon when I received acceptances from both of them. It really boosted my confidence and helped me recognise that I, and ordinary boy from a ‘disadvantaged’ area, was actually good enough for these opportunities.

“I hadn’t really travelled much before so heading off to the US for a week by myself was an incredible experience – I absolutely loved it. Both summer schools taught me a lot; they challenged me academically and helped me develop professionally and personally.”

Bailey’s summer of academic enrichment did not stop there. Rather than using the holidays to relax, he also pursued work placements at Linklaters law firm in London and the Ministry of Justice’s Prison and Probation headquarters in Cardiff.

The opportunities were arranged after Seren put him in touch with The Social Mobility Foundation, which helps those from low socio-economic backgrounds gain practical work experience through its ‘Aspiring Professionals Programme.’

Katie Stamps, Aspiring Professionals Programme Manager, said: “Through working with students like Bailey, we know that potential is everywhere, but opportunities are not. The bright, young people we support across Wales and the rest of the UK are highly motivated but lack the professional networks needed to access universities and top employers. Our work with initiatives like Seren helps them to access these.

“Our programme matches students to professional mentors, provides university application support, and places students on high-quality work experience, helping them to develop the skills they need to fully unlock their potential. Each year we support hundreds of students into top universities and are delighted to see Bailey has secured his place at Durham University.”

Bailey, who dreams of becoming a commercial solicitor, is now looking forward to starting university. He said: “I am so excited to begin a new chapter studying law at university. I have worked so hard throughout the last two years and am lucky to have been involved in so many amazing experiences which have helped me submit a competitive application to Durham University and given me practical experience in the sector that I aspired to work in. I am immensely thankful to being on the Seren programme as without that support, I would not have known about these opportunities.

“To any other ‘disadvantaged’ students out there, I say, work hard and grasp every opportunity available to you. I don’t believe anyone’s potential should be limited by their background, or where they are from. Even if the odds are against you, life is what you make it and you have the power to make a real difference in your life.”

For more information on the Seren programme visit: https://gov.wales/seren-network

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