OFFA highlights Wadham access scheme

4th September 2017

News, Student news, Alumni news

Wadham’s innovative pre-16 Luton Access project has been highlighted in a Government report from the Office of Fair Access, the independent public body that regulates fair access to higher education in England.

  • Participants in the Luton project with Warden, Ken Macdonald Kt QC

The sustained scheme, with its long term, academically driven outreach programme for students at Key Stage 4 (pre-GCSE) in participating Luton schools, is cited by government as a model for Widening Participation across the university sector.  Thanks to the hard work of the Wadham community, including the students - who are actively engaged in delivering outreach programmes - and the ongoing support and generosity of Wadham’s alumni, supporters and partners, this pioneering scheme has been realised.

The OFFA report acknowledges the benefits of long term outreach work that is sustained, co-ordinated, and collaborative, commenting “we have seen an increase in institutional mentoring and tutoring programmes, including work with younger age groups.”

Since 2015, in partnership with the University of Oxford, Wadham has run a pilot project for students in Years 10 and 11 at a group of secondary schools in Luton, focussed on raising aspirations and academic attainment at Key Stage 4.  The project is based at a hub school (Cardinal Newman School, Luton), which acts as the main site for the contact programme. 

In its approved Access Agreement with OFFA, the University of Oxford highlights the Luton pilot project as a model for future expansion of the University’s Widening Participation work at Key Stage 4.  Wadham is currently in the early stages of planning a major expansion of its existing Luton project, in collaboration with the University, as part of the shared commitment to raising attainment in schools at pre-GCSE levels.  It is anticipated that by 2022-23, once hubs are established in four identified areas (including Luton), 3,200 students will engage with the university annually through the initiative.

Professor Les Ebdon, Director of Fair Access to Higher Education said: “We urgently need to see further, faster progress in widening access for young people from the most disadvantaged backgrounds. So it is important that universities scale up their existing outreach work and look for opportunities to expand their offering. I am pleased to see how wide a geographic area and large number of schools this new scheme at the University of Oxford aims to reach, and I look forward to seeing its impact.”

Commenting on the programme, University of Oxford Vice Chancellor, Professor Louise Richardson said: “Education has a key role to play in redressing inequality, increasing social mobility and making society fairer for all. Wadham’s innovative pilot scheme in Luton is to be commended for providing support for students from all backgrounds and is part of a University-wide effort to create systematic change within the sector.”

Wadham aims to undertake its outreach work to greatest effect, but also wishes to support wider change through evidence and facilitation. The College has drawn on the latest research evidence in the design and delivery of the Luton project, and has also committed to robustly evaluating all of its outreach work. The evidence derived from the evaluation to date was published in the College’s 2016 Impact Report. This report provided the fuel for a recent debate hosted by Wadham at the House of Lords, which featured the Minister for Universities, and was chaired by Melvyn Bragg (History, 1958).

Wadham College Tutor for Access Peter Thonemann said: “Much of the Access and Outreach work currently undertaken by Oxford colleges has a narrow focus on Year 12 recruitment, but it is increasingly clear that for many talented young people this is simply too late. Sustained work with pre-GCSE pupils, with a strong academic focus, is crucial for enabling the brightest students to fulfil their potential at GCSE and to make the kinds of A-level choices that will enable them to make competitive applications to top universities.  ”

Warden of Wadham College, Ken Macdonald added: “Wadham’s access programme has been transformative for many young people. Our ambition has been to contribute to wider public understanding about how universities can help to mitigate deep-rooted inequalities in the education system and we are delighted to see the Office for Fair Access endorsing our achievements.”

About the Luton project

Twenty four students from six Luton state schools began the programme in 2015. The students were selected according to academic criteria and ‘widening participation’ flags. Over the course of Year 10 (age 14-15), the students attended eight academic taster sessions at Cardinal Newman School, Luton, focusing on topics that they were unlikely to have studied before at school.

At a day-trip to Wadham in April 2016, each student gave a presentation based on their favourite taster session.  They then completed a summer project based on a ‘Very Short Introduction’ book of their choice, presenting this to their peers and parents. During Year 11, they attended a variety of workshops including ‘A Level choices’ and ‘Study Skills’. 

Twelve students attended the concluding two day residential trip from 5 of the participating Luton schools. The successful development of this model now means that there are significant plans to expand provision, with the support of the College’s community, to engage greater numbers of pupils.

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