Like everywhere else in the world, the St John’s Access & Admissions Office has had a busy and rather disrupted Hilary Term. Given the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, St John’s College is no longer open to the public and our staff are now working from home; you can find out more about the University of Oxford’s response to the crisis here. Despite these challenges, our work continues—read on to review the progress of our programmes and events during the first half of term, and to find out how we are rising to the challenge of providing excellent digital access and outreach provision during the ongoing lockdown.
Pre-GCSE Inspire Programme
Our innovative Pre-GCSE Inspire Programme launched in October 2019 with 24 participating schools and 324 pupils enrolled across our link regions of Ealing and Harrow. The programme comprises fortnightly after-school clubs in each school across a variety of subjects, delivered by Teacher Coordinators in each school, and involves Aspiration Days taking place on weekends.
During January, February and early March, our Teacher Coordinators delivered pairs of workshops across various subjects, including Physics (in which pupils explored black holes), Languages & Linguistics (in which pupils encountered universal language-learning skills which they practiced on languages such as Esperanto, Danish and Kelabit) and History (in which pupils learned about Viking history and mythology). We also hosted two pairs of Aspiration Days: Space & Engineering at the Science Museum and Imperial College London, and Writing & Social Justice in collaboration with the Orwell Youth Prize. You can read more about these day-long workshops here.
Given school closures, we are currently developing online material to take the place of the after-school clubs for the rest of this academic year. The rest of the year’s programme of activities, including a Summer School at St John’s College, will also be coordinated virtually.
Year 11 Inspire Programme
The Year 11 Inspire Programme is an online course coordinated via our website Inspire Digital. The course focuses on one central question (this year: “What is the power of a volcano?”), which is approached from a variety of subjects; each class includes articles, quizzes, games and competitions.
578 pupils from non-selective state schools across the entire UK enrolled on the course this year. Throughout Hilary Term, we released three online classes with associated competitions; the full course material is now freely available on the Inspire Digital website here. In Class 1, we looked at primary source texts and archaeological objects which can help us ask and answer questions about volcanoes; Class 2 focused on the sciences, from modern-day geography and maths all the way to ancient geology; and in Class 3 we explored arts, literature and music inspired by volcanoes.
The final round of competitions closed at the end of April, and we were delighted to receive an astounding quality of work from course participants across every competition. You can find all winning entries on the Inspire Digital website here.
Year 12 Inspire Programme
The Year 12 Inspire Programme consists of a series of five Twilight Sessions throughout the year at schools and sixth form colleges in Ealing and Harrow. Sessions include a combination of academic taster talks by scholars from Oxford or other leading universities, and expert guidance on skills development and how to make an effective and competitive application to university.
We delivered the first set of these Twilight Sessions in February. Pupils enrolled on the Arts & Humanities strand of the programme across both boroughs attended a session on History, ‘Race, Radicalism and the US Constitution’, with Matt Garraghan. Pupils on the Science & Maths strand in Ealing attended a Biology session on ‘Copying our DNA’ with Ana Wallis, and pupils on the Science & Maths strand in Harrow attended a Neuroscience session on ‘How do we see?’ with Maria Ruesseler. In addition to these academic taster sessions, all three Twilight Sessions also included a presentation about the University of Oxford by Matt Garraghan, the Inspire Project Lead.
Given the current school closures, the remaining Twilight Sessions can of course not proceed as scheduled. We are hoping to host some virtual Twilight Sessions on our website Inspire Digital; further details will be shared with pupils enrolled on the programme as soon as possible.
School visits and Study Days
Across Hilary Term, the Access Office hosted school visits with just over 250 students from 11 schools from our linked regions, where we introduced the University and its courses and took school groups on a tour of St John’s. Some school groups also had an afternoon object-handling session at the Natural History Museum; these students saw the skeleton of an owl, a 100-year-old octopus and came hand to hand with Madagascan hissing cockroaches! We were also proud to support the Physics Department in February with ‘Marie Curious,’ an event designed to inspire girls in Years 7, 8 and 9 to explore the sciences.
This term we hosted Year 12 Study Days in Maths and History; these saw a combined total of 80 students from across the UK come to Oxford for a series of lectures, workshops and Q&As with our tutors and students. Click here to read more about the Maths Study Day, and here to read more about the History Study Day. Our annual Classics and Ancient History Essay Competition ran for its 10th year in 2020; category winners and the overall winner were announced on 3 April, with the judges commending the high standard of work across the 65 essays submitted.
The St John’s Access Team also attended HE and UCAS Fairs in our link regions of Brighton and Hove. Nearly 2,000 students from all over Brighton, Hove and London attended these fairs, and we were overwhelmed with students’ enthusiasm and excellent questions.
This term we were also delighted to launch our Access Travel Awards, a bursary for students visiting St John’s who may not be able to attend our events without financial support. Before the college closed in late March, we were able to support 8 students to attend our Study Days through this scheme. You can find out more about the scheme by clicking here.
Moving access online
Given the current challenges we are facing, much of our work has shifted to take place online this term. To this end, we are working on developing our online resource platform available on Inspire Digital, to better support teachers and students. For teachers we have introduced a teaching resources section, which gathers freely available teaching material, lesson plans and other classroom resources produced at St John’s College as well as across the entire University of Oxford. We are also expanding our collection of super-curricular materials and practice questions for students, in order to better engage students of all ages and across subjects.
As we develop more material, we are also highlighting the resources we already have on our social media channels in bite-sized daily portions. Keep an eye on our Instagram and Twitter feeds for these, as well as for virtual tours around St John’s—while we can’t take school groups around our beautiful college these days, we will be keeping in touch online!