You may have noticed a quite prolonged silence on this blog recently. I’m pleased to say that it has been for a good reason though – March is the busiest month in the access calendar, and I can say for sure that for me it was the most hectic period since starting at Somerville. So here comes a long blog post.
The month started off calmly enough with a meeting of access officers across the different colleges and departments, to discuss an article from the British Educational Research Journal on working-class students in UK higher education. It seems so long ago now that I’m finding it hard to recall our conclusions, but it certainly provoked a spirited discussion of the role of attainment-raising in access, and how big an issue confidence is in our efforts to raise aspirations among lowest participation groups.
From there on in, the pace picked up significantly. During the first full week of March we hosted two events for Year 10s as part of the cross-college Pathways Programme (which I have written about in previous posts, and will no doubt be harping on about in the future). It was Pathways again the following week, this time three day-long events for Year 12s. The Year 12 events are a lot more serious in character – they are all about informing and supporting gifted students who are considering Oxbridge as an option for them. All the students were split into subject groups, and enjoyed two academic taster sessions in their subject, followed by a talk on the admissions process and information on how to find out more. Over the three days, 450 Year 12s attended across 20 subjects, with 66 academic sessions delivered by 50 tutors – so it took a huge amount of organization, and I have to pay tribute for Joe Organ from Brasenose College, who took the lead role in pulling it all together.
Because it was the vacation, it was a struggle to find current undergraduates to help with the events – thankfully I had a great deal of support from a wonderful first year physics and philosophy student at Somerville called Marsha. I cannot praise her highly enough, and her enthusiasm and calm were greatly appreciated while I was anxiously running around trying to ensure that everything was going well.
Marsha also accompanied me to one of our link schools on Monday 19th March to run a mock interview workshop for some of the teachers there. I have often found in my work to date that efforts to support school teachers, so that they can confidently and knowledgably support their students in turn, are some of the most valuable. It was a very enjoyable trip, and the first of its kind for me.
On the following Wednesday, I was driving around the Buckinghamshire countryside to deliver no fewer than three Oxbridge talks to schools sending a low percentage of their pupils to Oxford. The second school that I visited was especially worthwhile – it had taken a bit of persistence to get something firmed up in the diary, but I was so glad I did. The Deputy Head, who greeted me on arrival, told me that I was the first person from Oxford or Cambridge to make that sort of enquiry to their school. As a non-grammar school in a grammar school area, it is easily overlooked. But there was a good proportion of the 57 students I spoke to who had the potential to get the top grades – it was lack of confidence that was a key factor for many of them. I’m hoping to put together a programme of events with them, so that from an earlier point we can start some confidence- and aspiration-raising activities with them.
No rest for the wicked… back I hurried to Oxford, where that same day a group of student from Durham had arrived for a two-day residential visit. Durham isn’t one of the areas that Somerville usually works with, but we have a connection to the coordinator – the College Senior Tutor worked at Durham University before arriving here last July. So in partnership with Durham’s link college, Trinity, we ran an action-packed schedule of events, including personal statement and interview workshops (with help from Marsha again!). I also asked the students to do a research project, breaking into smaller groups to put together an exhibition on Somervillians of the past. Fast forward to Friday morning, and we had some great presentations on the achievements of Vera Brittain, Dorothy Hodgkin, Janet Vaughan and Indira Gandhi (photos to follow, I hope).
One more week to go, and there was still plenty to do. After a visit from some Year 11s from Hounslow, I was back on the road to deliver an ‘Oxbridge Explained’ talk to one of the Buckinghamshire grammar schools, co-presenting with Dr Andrew Bell from Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge. Then the next day I was up at the crack of dawn to spend two days at the UCAS convention in London, which was truly hectic. It was a great opportunity to see some of those students I’d spoken to earlier in the week, in a more one-to-one environment, and to meet lots of other prospective students too. And then I had 10 days off – phew.
I’m writing this in 0th week – so it’s really preparation time for the coming term. With a big Year 9 mathematics event, our Teachers Day and two Open Days to plan, along with everything else, I’ll have plenty to keep me occupied!