Disadvantaged pupils in the UK face an uphill route to university, regardless of their ability. Studies have shown that pupils from state schools who are eligible for free school meals have only a 2,000:1 chance of winning a place at Oxbridge, while pupils from private schools have a 20:1 chance.
We run our Futures outreach programme to address this problem, by demystifying both the university application process and university life itself. Through a blend of mentoring and familiarisation visits, sixth-form pupils overcome the hurdles that would otherwise impede their aspirations towards higher education. One of the most important elements of Futures are the residential Easter Schools, which this year were run with the support of the University of Cambridge and the University of Oxford.
From 29 March to 8 April, nearly 500 talented sixth-formers from England and Wales attended three four-day residential visits at the two universities. They took part in sessions which covered everything from the academic experience of university life to the extra-curricular activities and practicalities such as student loans and advice on attending interviews. Students were able to select from a wide range of academic sessions based on their own subject choices and interests – so, for example, while some attended sessions on the Higgs Boson delivered by members of the Physics faculty, others went to the Law faculty to hear about the legal ramifications of international events.
“Seeing the universities makes such a difference to what I thought was out there,” said Emily Maloney, one of the pupils who attended visited Cambridge. “It makes it seem more achievable, and that I have every right to go there too. And plus, I like to prove people wrong!”
“I think that this experience can help people get out of their comfort zones,” said Wiktoria Baranowska, who was also at Cambridge.
“Part of the reason we’re here is because our parents never went to university, and it’s strange but it can make you feel bad for trying to be ambitious,” said another pupil, Alex Penrose. “It’s a cycle, and because of organisations like Teach First that try to break it, more kids who are motivated and are currently prevented, maybe by people around them or by self-doubt, will try for a university place.”