In late November, I embarked on a 10-day trip to visit our link schools in the North West. I was able to meet so many different students, each at a different stage of their educational journey. I hope that, through these outbound visits, Queen’s is demonstrating our commitment to engaging with schools in the North West in a way which suits the interests, needs, and aspirations of their students.

After a long train journey up to Blackburn, I spent a few days visiting schools across Central Lancashire. Many of the secondary schools in Lancashire are 11-16, meaning that students in Year 11 are making decisions about their Post-16 choices. I spoke to many Year 10 and 11 students about their next steps, and the importance of choosing relevant A Level subjects which allow them to progress onto a university course that suits their interests.

Pupils commented on how the talk provided a valuable insight into applying to university and said they now feel more equipped to start investigating routes and courses, which they feel will benefit them when they make their A Level choices at college.

Careers Adviser, State School in Lancashire

Targeting students in younger year groups is a valuable part of our outreach programme, which makes pupils aware of the breadth of options available to them and introduces the idea that higher education may be a path that they wish to pursue.

Later in the week, I made my way over to the Fylde Coast. Here, we were particularly pleased to visit some schools that we hadn’t previously engaged with and to raise the aspirations of pupils that hadn’t before considered that university could be an option for them.

I also met some Year 13 pupils in both Blackpool and Cumbria who were in the middle of navigating the Oxford admissions process. We discussed what admissions tutors are looking for in potential students and tackled some interview-style questions. We wish them all the very best of luck with their applications!

You demystified the interview process and put students at their ease, focusing them on how they can articulate their academic thinking well.

Many of our brightest students don’t consider themselves worthy of a place at Oxford or Cambridge because they don’t think they would fit in. Interacting with staff and students in person is the most powerful way to break down that stereotype.

Teacher, State School (Sixth Form) in Cumbria

It was also a pleasure to visit two of our The Access Project partner schools, Darwen Vale High School and The Whitehaven Academy, as part of my visit. I was able to meet the University Access Officers who are embedded within the schools, and attend their workshops with Year 10 and 11 pupils who are taking part in the programme.

Somehow, I managed to avoid both the widespread train strikes and heavy snowfall that hit the Lake District the week following my visit. The train journey from Whitehaven back to Oxford provided some beautiful views of the Cumbrian coast. The length of the journey reinforced some comments that I had heard from students earlier in the week about Oxford feeling ‘far away’, both in terms of physical distance and the perceived unattainability of studying at a top university.

It is striking to consider how different life can be growing up in the rural/coastal North-West compared to other parts of the country. Many haven’t been far south and feel less intelligent, less able, and ultimately less worthy of a place that requires intense competition to get into.

As someone who grew up in this environment, but was picked up through the Cambridge access scheme, I really want to disrupt some of these entrenched views. The best way to open up opportunities and horizons is by meeting people like you and other students who make our pupils think ‘maybe that could be me’. 

Teacher, State School (Sixth Form) in Cumbria

Over the course of my ten-day trip, I visited 19 schools and met over 800 wonderful students. It was incredibly valuable to speak directly to pupils and teachers in their own school environments, and I am very grateful to the schools that welcomed me with such warmth! I look forward to returning to the North West in the New Year to visit more of our link schools.

Molly Lockwood, Schools Liaison, Outreach & Recruitment Officer