This project saw us take Oxford and Cambridge Universities out to Essex across a series of three ‘Stretch Days’. Year 12 students from 23 schools across the region came together in local venues to attend a variety of academic taster sessions, covering both the sciences and the humanities, delivered by Oxford and Cambridge academics. The students were also able to meet some of our undergraduate students – some of whom were from the Essex region themselves – and attend talks on the advantages of going to university, the benefits of attending Oxford or Cambridge, and the admissions process.
The aims of the Stretch Days were as follows:
• To encourage students from across Essex to aspire to attend university
• To introduce students to the possibility of studying at Oxford or Cambridge, and to give them the information that they need in order to submit a competitive application
• To give students an experience of university-style teaching in the form of lectures and seminar-style sessions
• To enable students to explore subjects outside of their school curriculum/timetable, thus widening their horizons.
The events were offered to local state-funded schools to attend free of charge, and included lunch for all participants. We opened and closed the days with talks about the benefits of going to university and the UCAS application process, detailing the additional steps in the Oxford and Cambridge application process. Some student helpers from Oxford were recruited to give a student perspective and to speak about their experiences of studying at university and the application process. The Year 12s were able to talk to both the academics and these student helpers throughout the event during breaks and lunch, and then again during a Q&A session at the end of the day.
The days were designed to introduce the students to a range of subjects; each student was able to attend three academic sessions, which offered a mixture of familiar subjects and disciplines that they had not previously had the opportunity to study (including Archaeology, Oriental Studies, Psychology, and Neuroscience). Some sessions were taught as lectures, while others were structured around seminar and tutorial models, thereby ensuring that the students experienced the full range of teaching styles offered at university. Where possible, we hosted the events within universities in order to give the students an insight into the university environment.
Feedback from the events was overwhelmingly positive. Students were asked what they enjoyed about the day:
"All the very kind lecturers who explained their subject […] well."
"Making me more confident when it comes to degrees and university knowledge."
"Talking to students from Oxford and Cambridge and […] getting more advice about applying […]. I never thought about going to Oxford or Cambridge before but by speaking with students there I am now a lot more interested."
"[The academic sessions] were enjoyable and engaging."
"I feel like university would suit me now."
"It has allowed me to try subjects I would not normally think about studying."