First year of Aim for Oxford comes to a successful conclusion — despite the pandemic

The first year of our Aim for Oxford outreach programme has now come to an end. Our Senior Outreach Officer, Hannah Snell, reflects on its success in interesting times: 

The Aim for Oxford programme is for Year 12 state school students from the North East of England who may be considering applying to Oxford in the future, or who were wondering whether it could be for them. Students are selected based on potential educational disadvantage that they may have experienced, such as being first generation to university, or having received Free School Meals or been in care, as well as postcode data (ACORN and POLAR) and any personal extenuating circumstances.

We were so pleased to receive 170 applications for 40 places on the first year. It made it particularly challenging to select students for the programme, but one particular advantage of online working is that we have been able to stay in contact with, and continue to support, applicants who were not successful in applying for Aim for Oxford. With our colleagues in the Oxford for North East Consortium, we have been able to offer a series of Personal Statement and Application workshops, and will be continuing to support all potential state school applicants from the North East through Admissions Tests and Interview Workshops in October and November 2020.

Our successful applicants came from 19 schools across the North East, from Guisborough to Berwick-upon-Tweed. 67.4% of students selected were First Generation to Higher Education, and 97.7% met one or more flags of disadvantage (out of a possible 7), and 53.5% meeting three or more flags.

It was great to meet all of the students and their parents in January for our first session, which included Sciences and a Humanities/Social Science academic taster sessions, a welcome talk from St Anne’s Principal, Helen King, an outreach talk and a parent and carer Q&A session. We were also able to run a second session, with more academic taster sessions and a workshop on super-curricular activities in Newcastle in February.

Unfortunately, in March, our plans had to change quite drastically! Our fantastic tutors were still happy to run online academic taster sessions, and the outreach officers quickly adapted their own workshops to an online format. We were thrilled to continue to offer the programme and that students were still joining the online sessions.

However, once again, we had to rethink our plans for the August residential as students were unable to visit Oxford in person. We put together a week long plan of tutorials, workshops, social activities and Student Ambassador sessions, culminating in Aim for Oxford students giving a short online presentation on the topic that they had chosen, which ranged from “Is it ok to judge other people: how judgement forms and its implicit biases” to “Should healthcare be free: the future of the NHS”.

The students themselves were absolutely brilliant about this change in format and adapted quickly and positively. By the end of the week, students were commenting:

“All of the ambassadors, tutors and main group leaders were so welcoming and helpful if we had any questions.”

“[It was particularly useful to] … get extra information and advice about applying to Oxford that I wouldn’t get at school.”

“[I really enjoyed] … working in groups with people who had a similar interest as me on an academic project that reflected university style work.”

“I really enjoyed the lectures where everyone was involved and contributing their ideas (especially the one about research and questions). Also loved the evening activities and seeing the ambassadors each day/night! They were all super approachable and really really enjoyed getting to know them and their experiences at Oxford.”

At the start of the programme, 18% of Aim for Oxford students said that they definitely would apply to Oxford, and 39% saying that they were very likely to apply. By the end of the first year, 41% of those who completed the residential would now definitely apply to Oxford, and 22% very likely to apply. At the start of the programme, concerns about grades and workload were the biggest factor behind why some students would not be likely to apply. By the end of the first year, some students have now identified the course that they want to do, which is not offered by Oxford, or have decided to make an application to Cambridge, with concerns around staying closer to home for university taking a higher priority.

We’re really looking forward to continuing to work with the Aim for Oxford students this year, through Admissions Test and Interview Workshops in the next few months through to – we hope – support as offer holders next year.

We’re also now opening applications for the second cohort of Aim for Oxford students. If you are in Year 12 in a state school from the North East of England, we would love to receive your application!