A busy start to 2012

Since joining Somerville last summer, I have been gradually building up our access work. This started with visits to some of the schools in our link regions of Buckinghamshire, Hounslow and Kingston, giving presentations and advice to their pupils, and planning activities for the coming months. Since the start of Hilary (Spring) Term though, things have started moving up a few gears.

On Monday of first week, I organised a briefing session for the college’s new Student Ambassador Scheme, which brings together students who are keen to help encourage applications from under-represented groups. The scheme is pretty independent – it was set up by the JCR Equality Opportunities Rep, and it’s up to the students to choose what direction it goes in – but I monitor and support the ambassadors’ work, giving them guidance and resources whenever needed. It’s also great to know that there’s now a pool of students I can ask for help when we have schools visiting Somerville. Everyone at the briefing seemed full of enthusiasm, which is a huge encouragement.

We had a teacher from Buckinghamshire come to visit Somerville for lunch on Thursday. She told us that although her school, a state grammar, had some (naturally) very able students, they weren’t sending the numbers to Oxbridge that they should be. We discussed the various reasons for this, and what we could do to encourage applications. I suggested setting up a programme of events, starting from Year 8 or 9, to help familiarise pupils with Oxford from an earlier age (I know many pupils can feel daunted by the grand architecture of some of the colleges, so it’s important to help them feel comfortable in these surroundings), and carrying on to application support in the sixth form. This programme will hopefully act as a prototype for other schools whose talented students aren’t considering Oxford, for whatever reason, and I will continue to post about its progress.

Thursday was also the date of this term’s meeting for all the college access and outreach officers, where we come together to share best practice and discuss issues that are affecting us. This term the main topic seems to be how to track students who benefit from our activities, so that we can measure their effectiveness and improve any as necessary. We’ll be working closely together and with the University to find the best method of doing this. I’m always impressed by the level of collaboration on, and commitment to, access between the colleges and departments. In fact, if you take into consideration all the resource that goes into it across the collegiate university, it really is a huge investment.

The final event of my busy week was on Saturday, when I hosted my first group visit to Somerville. I’m one of those people who worries about events, even if I’m not managing them, so I was more than a little nervous – but it all went extremely smoothly in the end. Our guests were a group of 17 students from the Pakistani community in Hounslow, plus four adult supervisors. The students ranged from Year 8 to Year 11, and came from seven different schools, who were all part of a community group called the Pakistani Welfare Association. The main organiser was from the area and had studied at Cambridge; he wanted to encourage more young people from his community to aspire to go to Oxbridge, and so contacted me to arrange the visit. I had three undergraduates helping on the day, to whom I am extremely grateful. They gave tours of the college and hosted a Q&A session at the end, and one also helped me supervise the group on a trip to the Natural History Museum. I know that the visitors really appreciated the opportunity to speak to current students throughout the day. Lots of them told me that they’ve now decided that they want to study at Oxford themselves – I couldn’t ask for better feedback!

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