Blaenau Gwent has become home to Jesus College Oxford’s first ever ‘hub school’ thanks to an initiative launched by MP Nick Smith.

Blaenau Gwent MP Nick Smith set the ball rolling on creating a link between Blaenau Gwent Learning Zone and Jesus College after data was published last year showing that Oxbridge universities were still predominantly offering places to students from ‘privileged’ backgrounds.

Data published under a Freedom of Information request from Tottenham MP David Lammy revealed that just two Blaenau Gwent students had been offered places at Oxford between 2010 and 2015 – a success rate of just 8% of those who applied.

Mr Smith said: “I was dismayed to read this.

“It struck me that more needed to be done to encourage young people in Blaenau Gwent to aspire to apply to top universities and to increase the chances of those applications being successful.

“Our kids are as bright as any other kids and I think our brightest should be at the world’s best universities.”

Correspondence with the Chancellor of Oxford University set up the opportunity for talks between Mr Smith, career development fellow at Jesus College Dr Matthew Williams and Blaenau Gwent Learning Zone director John Sexton.

This was the catalyst for the creation of the hub which has now officially launched at Blaenau Gwent Learning Zone.

More than 50 pupils from the area’s secondary schools attended the launch event on September 19 to hear a presentation by Dr Matthew Williams. Also as part of the hub launch, five undergraduates from Jesus College attended the Learning Zone to meet with A-level learners and give advice on preparing applications for Oxford University.

Blaenau Gwent students with Dr Matt Williams
Blaenau Gwent students with Dr Matt Williams

Suzanna Thomas, Blaenau Gwent Learning Zone’s Head of School – General Education and Access said: “It was an exciting and inspirational day for the young people in our schools and our A-level learners and it was a pleasure to have Dr Williams from Jesus College, Oxford with us.”

Dr Williams added: “The aim is to work in partnership with Blaenau Gwent schools to raise the aspirations of local students.

“Students from Blaenau Gwent are chronically underrepresented at universities like Oxford, which means we are missing out on the extraordinary talent and potential of these young people.”

Nick Smith MP said: “We have so many talented young people across the borough and this link will give them the encouragement, the support and the advice they need to apply to top institutions.

“It will also bring together and complement the good work that Coleg Gwent and the access team at Jesus College do.

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