Yorkshire boy's Oxford dream within reach thanks to legacy of Sir Ken Morrison

A legacy of ambition kindled by a Yorkshire institution is helping to forge the brightest of futures for a young Bradford scholar on the brink of success.

Blaine Thomas, raised in one of the country's most economically deprived areas, has been offered a place at Oxford University to study Law.

But it comes after his potential was recognised on an assisted independent school place, set up in the memory of the late Sir Ken Morrison.

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And while he is only too aware of the socio-economic barriers of his history, he says today they can only serve to make him stronger.

Blaine Thomas, aged 17, who has received a conditional offer to study Law at Oxford after being granted an assisted study place at Bradford Grammar School established in memory of the late Sir Ken Morrison. Image: James Hardisty.

"You can't let those barriers define you," says Blaine as he readies for his final exams at Bradford Grammar School, the late supermarket giant chairman's alma mater.

"You have to work hard and succeed, because of them, rather than in spite of them.

"As a Bradford lad, it feels a little closer to home," the 17-year-old adds. "Ken Morrison went from a little market in Bradford to a chain across the UK.

"It's inspiring to know it's that legacy which is helping me to access those same opportunities."

Blaine Thomas joined the sixth form at Bradford Grammar School on an assisted place, and was made head boy within months nominated by students and staff. Image: James Hardisty.

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Blaine, now from Clayton, was raised in a single-parent family on Bradford's Canterbury Estate where he lived until he was 14, in an area which falls within one of the country's 10 per cent most disadvantaged postcodes.

His mother Louise Maguire, an administrative worker who could see his ability, had urged him to apply for financial support to attend the fee-paying Bradford Grammar School.

When we meet, in the school's imposingly grand entrance hall, he is unfailingly polite in his freshly pressed jacket. Quiet spoken and intelligent, with a shy smile and amiable manner.

Blaine Thomas, who until the age of 14 lived in one of the most deprived areas of the country, is determined to succeed in education to inspire his younger brother Ramone. Image: James Hardisty.

This smile widens to a beam as he talks about his little brother Ramone, now aged 10. He is very protective, he admits with a grin, but fiercely proud.

"What drives me is to be a role model to my little brother," he admits. "I want him to see me be successful, and be someone he can look up to.

"It's not about making me proud, but him and my mum. They've done a lot to support me, and when I grow up I want to do the same for them."

Oxford offer

Blaine Thomas hopes to study Law at Oxford University, and is working towards his exams with the ambition of achieving three As in History, Politics, and English Literature. Image: James Hardisty.

Blaine joined the school on an assisted place in the sixth form, becoming head boy within just months after being nominated by his fellow students and teachers.

It has always been his ambition to attend Oxford University. He now has an offer, conditional on his achieving three As in in History, Politics and Literature.

While it should never matter what kind of school you go to, he says today, he believes the scholarship has helped when it comes to confidence and a support team.

"The Oxford interview was quite daunting," he admits. "More than anything it was that support which encouraged me not to feel overwhelmed by the big buildings, or scary professors."

Social mobility

For now, Blaine is concentrating on his upcoming exams, and even as we meet the first study book out of his bag is a copy of The Great Gatsby.

Bradford Grammar School student Blaine Thomas is determined to use the barriers he has faced around social mobility to drive his ambitions of success. Image: James Hardisty.

But he has a firm hope for the future, in giving a little back when it comes to easing the barriers around social inclusion.

"For me, social mobility is really important," he says. "I come from a working class family. I've always been told that if you work hard you can achieve, and have success.

"My background maybe pushes me even more," he adds. "I knew that I wanted to achieve. There weren't a lot of people around me, going to university, succeeding.

"It's about wanting to change that. To be that person that came from somewhere where maybe not a lot of people go to university, and buck that trend.

"It's good to break down barriers. But they should be what drives and motivates you, rather than what holds you back."

Breaking barriers

Bradford Grammar School says it has ambitious plans to increase it's assisted places provision so that more students like Blaine can inspire the next generation.

The University of Oxford, ranked among the best in the world, sees fierce competition with over 21,500 students applying for just 3,300 places in 2018.

The university is improving its diversity, but nearly 40 per cent of all places still go to students from independent schools.

Overall in 2018, just 11.3 per cent of undergraduate students were from socio-economically disadvantaged areas, and there are 7.7 applications to study law for every place available.

Students from London and the South East made up nearly half of all applications to Oxford, compared to Yorkshire and the Humber which accounts for just 4.7 per cent.