Wadham’s Summer Schools – An Academic Triumph

Date Published: 01.02.2022

We are thrilled to announce that a record fifteen alumni of Wadham’s 2021 academic summer schools have received offers for undergraduate degrees at Oxford, six of them at Wadham, the remainder at other colleges.

"This high offer-rate is all the more impressive since the students involved are, by definition, from those demographic groups least likely to make successful applications to Oxford."

Wadham’s successful programme of academic residential summer schools began in 2013 with a pilot Classics week, to which we have since added summer schools in Biology/Human Sciences and Modern Languages (this last running for the first time in 2021); Wadham has also funded the expansion of the UNIQ summer school in Engineering for many years. Our summer schools are academically rigorous, highly intensive week-long residentials designed for students from groups historically under-represented at Oxford, many of whom have multiple indices of relative educational or socio-economic disadvantage. The courses are intended to provide a high-level introduction to academic study at Oxford, with a full programme of lectures, classes, and tutorials intended to replicate as closely as possible the structure of a normal academic week at Oxford.

All three courses are led by current Wadham tutors, ably supported by a team of undergraduate mentors, many of whom are themselves former Wadham summer school participants. The summer schools were this year for the first time hosted in the Locke Access Centre – Oxford’s first ever purpose-built Access Centre – on the ground floor of Wadham’s beautiful new Dr Lee Shau Kee Building.  

This year, of the 48 participants in the 2021 summer schools in Classics, Biology/Human Sciences and Modern Languages, 35 went on to apply for undergraduate degree courses at Oxford. 15 of those 35 applicants have received offers for their chosen degree course, representing an impressive success rate of 43% (compared to an overall success rate of around 17% for all applicants to Oxford). This high offer-rate is all the more impressive since the students involved are, by definition, from those demographic groups least likely to make successful applications to Oxford. The 2021 Classics Summer School had a particularly impressive progression rate, with 14 out of 16 participants applying to Oxford, and 8 receiving offers, five of them at Wadham (one for Classics, one for Classics & English, one for Ancient and Modern History, one for Classical Archaeology and Ancient History, one for English). 

The successes of the summer school programme come in a year in which 75% of all the offers made by Wadham to UK-domiciled applicants have gone to those attending maintained-sector schools, the highest proportion in the College’s history. This compares to a figure of 70% across the University as a whole.

"The successes of the summer school programme come in a year in which 75% of all the offers made by Wadham to UK-domiciled applicants have gone to those attending maintained-sector schools."

One of the main functions of the summer schools – aside from their rigorous intellectual content – is to demystify this rather alarming institution for highly talented students who might otherwise worry about ‘fitting in’ at Oxford.

Participants on the summer schools experience a week living in Wadham and working with Wadham’s tutors in their chosen subject area, as well as getting to know other highly academically able young people from similar backgrounds.

Eloise, a current Wadham undergraduate reading Biology, who attended the 2019 Summer School in Biology/Human Sciences, says: “The summer school really helped me to understand the application process, and also gave me more confidence that I had the potential to make a successful application. It helped me decide to choose Wadham, and made the interview process a little less stressful as I’d already been to the college and met some of the tutors, and had made some friends who were also there. And it was also a lot of fun, so that’s a bonus!”

Peter Thonemann, Wadham’s Tutor in Ancient History, has been involved in the organisation of the summer schools since 2013. He writes: “This year’s extraordinary progression rates are a triumphant vindication of the college’s long-term commitment to access and outreach, none of which would be possible without the vision and support of our extraordinary alumni community. Oxford has made great strides in recent years towards fairer access in undergraduate admissions, but we cannot simply assume that we can open our doors and wait for talented students to come to us. At Wadham, we believe that we have to go out proactively into the wider community, to nurture and support outstanding students from all social and educational backgrounds who have the potential to flourish at Oxford. The summer schools play a critical role in this mission, and it is fantastic to see so many brilliant and inspiring students from the most under-represented backgrounds receiving offers at Wadham and elsewhere.” 

Hugh Munro, Wadham’s Tutor for Access, writes: “It’s important to acknowledge that whilst the numbers on the summer schools are relatively small, the participants meet a range of measures heavily under-represented at Oxford. For example, two-fifths of this year’s participants are eligible for free school meals, and a third live in postcodes with limited progression to university (POLAR4). The summer schools allow us to work with these pupils in meaningful, sustained ways and support them to successfully apply to Oxford and other selective universities.” 

Robert Hannigan, Wadham’s Warden, sums up our delight at the success of this year’s summer school alumni: “Alumni and benefactors have been incredibly generous supporters of the College’s vision for Access to Excellence. We can now show that, at every stage of a student’s progress, from summer schools and admissions to Final exam results, this strategy is working in practice. Thanks to our benefactors we are making the world class education and research at Wadham and Oxford accessible to the brightest students from a broader range of backgrounds than ever before. This is a good moment to pause and celebrate that progress and the inspiring work of all involved in funding, designing and delivering it. We are not complacent: these results not only vindicate the faith of Wadham donors in this great project, they spur us on to do more. We are motivated not just by Wadham’s historic commitment to social justice, but by our confidence that the great academics, teachers, innovators and leaders of the future will be drawn from the widest possible pool of talent, irrespective of background. True to the vision of our Founders, we want to be ‘a benefit to the nation’, to show that a university education can have an impact in the country and the world. Broadening our search for the brightest minds in the country is central to this ambition.” 

The 2022 Wadham Summer Schools will take place from 15 August 2022 and will be advertised in March/April this year: We look forward to meeting you!