All around the UK and beyond today, students will be receiving their A-Level results after an unprecedented 17 months of schooling which has often been difficult and subject to interruptions. We would like to congratulate these students for their hard work and perseverance under pressure — whether you are coming to Oxford this autumn or not. Thanks are due too to the teachers who have shown such professionalism and taken such pains to support their students, including in allocating grades to those graduating from secondary education this summer.
This year, once again, we will be admitting a significantly larger cohort than usual — over 130, where normally our numbers would be 118 – 120. No student is being asked to defer their place and, as measured against POLAR and ACORN criteria, we will be welcoming a greater proportion of students from disadvantaged backgrounds than we have previously done.
Last year’s A-level results day brought enormous uncertainty, as you will remember, and led to a year unlike any other. The freshers of 2020 had faced huge school disruption, cancellation of exams, followed by the results by algorithm fiasco. Amidst all of this insecurity, St Anne’s welcomed all UK offer holders and every student who achieved their offer grades – resulting in a 12% larger than usual cohort. Inevitably, this caused financial and logistical pressures on College. As the year unfolded, we experienced three very different terms: all students back in Michaelmas, but at one point, over 100 students self-isolating in their rooms; virtually no students back in Hilary, apart from those who could not get home because of restrictions; and a much higher number back for Trinity, although over 70 had to remain in Oxford beyond term time to complete periods of isolation.
Some students and their families have been significantly financially affected by the pandemic – and the College has stepped in to ensure no-one is prevented from continuing their course for financial reasons. We have provided resources to those who have needed it most, including purchasing and posting materials not available online to students at home and provided additional tutoring, particularly in general study skills, such as academic writing. The impact on our current students is clear and they will still need a broad range of support in the year ahead. But we are proud to say that the St Anne’s commitment to excellence in teaching has not wavered, and our tutors and students have risen to the challenges magnificently.
There are, quite rightly, concerns that the incoming cohort of students will be even less prepared for university life than those who joined us last year. Our work during the pandemic has included moving Open Days and our flagship outreach programmes online, and we are grateful to our Outreach Team at St Anne’s for their hard work in ensuring our Aim for Oxford programme, targeted at students in the North East, has been able to continue online, alongside other vital outreach work. However, despite these efforts, we have all witnessed how the pandemic has starkly highlighted inequalities in education. The incoming freshers who have attended poorly-funded schools are likely to have received less support during this time than their better-funded peers: reduced face-to-face and live teaching, less classroom learning, and little opportunity for extra-curricular activities. They are bound to have considerable gaps in their skills and knowledge and will need additional support to bring them up to undergraduate level. At St Anne’s, we are aware that it is more important now than ever for us to uphold our commitment to widening access and ensuring equality of experience, by providing the support that every young person needs to ensure that they thrive at Oxford.
This support will extend beyond the academic, to include welfare and pastoral support for the multiple challenges to student mental health and wellbeing. Many of our incoming freshers will be feeling more anxious than usual about moving away from home and starting a new life in Oxford. The unpredictability of the last year proved incredibly stressful for our current students as well. We are very proud of the efforts made by our Welfare Team, in conjunction with the Academic Office and the Domestic Bursar, to ensure that all our students were supported practically and emotionally over the course of the past year. We will make every effort to ensure that the incoming group of students will be equally well supported, ensuring that they are able to thrive in an Oxford environment and take full advantage of all the opportunities an Oxford education can offer.
Once again, many congratulations to all who have received their A-Level results today, and we look forward to welcoming our incoming freshers to Oxford for what will be, we hope, a less uncertain academic year in October.