Even though schools were closed for much of last term, the work of the St John’ Access & Admissions team continued throughout, with a wide range of virtual activities for pupils from Years 10 to 12, including the launch of a number of new programmes and initiatives, allowing hundreds of pupils to benefit from our programmes in these most challenging of times.

Pre-GCSE Inspire Programme

Robot PersonWe have continued releasing new virtual classes throughout the term for the 330 Year 10 pupils on our Pre-GCSE Programme in the London Boroughs of Ealing and Harrow. Last term, this included competitions inviting pupils to consider such questions as ‘Is a robot a person?’, as well as a number of brand new, specially-recorded video classes in English and Maths, designed to focus in greater depth on topics that pupils will encounter in their GCSEs. Last term, these included a talk from Sammy Wright (Vice-Principal of Southmoor Academy in Sunderland, and a Social Mobility Commissioner) on ‘Magic, Poetry and Rhyme’ in Shakespeare; and a pair of sessions from Dr Tom Crawford, lecturer in Maths at Oxford and founder of the Tom Rocks Maths website, which look at Mathematics and Sport to illustrate such key topics as quadratic equations, geometry, and statistics.

With schools now reopened and restrictions slowly beginning to ease, we are particularly excited by two new developments in the programme this term: the return of in-person Inspire Clubs, and the launch of a new Aspiration Fund for participating schools.

From May, after-school Inspire Clubs will resume within our link schools, led by Teacher Coordinators in year-group bubbles. This will mark the first time in over a year that these clubs have taken place, and we’re delighted that pupils on the programme will once again be able to get to grips with Inspire sessions in-person with their teachers and their peers!

We look forward to resuming larger-scale Inspire activities, including visits to St John’s, when it is possible to do so again. In the meantime, in lieu of the trips and events that have been unable to take place due to the pandemic, we were pleased to launch the Inspire Programme ‘Aspiration Fund’ last term, giving participating schools the opportunity to bid for grants for extra-curricular activities and resources for their Inspire cohorts. A total of nine grants have been awarded for the Summer Term, for activities including theatre and museum trips, music workshops, and outdoor team building expeditions. This will ensure that despite the ongoing suspension of multi-school trips and events, pupils on the programme can continue to benefit from new opportunities within their school groups.

Inspire Programme for Years 10 & 11

Four monthly virtual editions of our online programme for Years 10 and 11 were released over the course of last term to the 982 pupils enrolled on the course. Open to all non-selective UK state school pupils, this year’s course was edited by St John’s Emeritus Fellow Dr Tom Kemp, and revolves around the central question of ‘Why does evolution matter?’, with each month’s class exploring the topic from a different perspective, from the biology of Darwinian evolution and natural selection, to the cultural evolution of language, music, and literature. Each class came with a set of competitions, and we have received some extremely creative and insightful entries. Winners have been selected by St John’s Fellows, academics and staff, and almost 100 first-place, second-place, and finalist prizes have been awarded across the first nine competitions, with prizes still to be awarded for the final three competitions which closed recently.

Year 10 and 11 Competitions

Post-GCSE Inspire Programme

Last term, we were excited to launch the Year 12 Inspire Programme, in an online format for 2021. The online format has allowed us to expand our pupil intake to all our link regions (Ealing & Harrow, East & West Sussex, Brighton & Hove, and Southampton), alongside pupils from the Oxford for South East group. Pupils on the Year 12 Inspire Programme choose to participate in either the STEM or the Arts & Humanities strand; the strands each include academic sessions geared to these specialities.

Three sessions have occurred in each strand so far, with a further three sessions planned for the remainder of the year. Last term, Arts & Humanities sessions included ‘Medieval Crime and Punishment’ by Professor Hannah Skoda, Tutorial Fellow in History; ‘Documenting Endangered Knowledge’ by Dr Samuel Derbyshire, Junior Research Fellow in Anthropology; and ‘How do we Persist Through Time?’ by Professor Nicholas Jones, Tutorial Fellow in Philosophy; while STEM sessions included ‘From Biology to Minds and Machines’ by Dr Keno Juchems, Junior Research Fellow in Psychology; ‘The Mathematics of Natural Selection’ by Professor Alan Grafen, Tutorial Fellow in Quantitative Biology; and ‘Meandering Through Medicine’ by Professor Charles Newton, Cheryl & Reece Scott Professor of Psychiatry.

For the first time in the Year 12 Inspire Programme, we have also included competitions alongside each academic session. Pupils have set their minds to challenges such as ‘Describe a ceremony from your recollections’, and ‘Should a multi-national company use AI in their factories?’, and we have enjoyed reading their creative and thoughtful entries.

In addition to the academic talks, there is also a skills-development element to each session. This focuses on applying to, and starting at, university. For example, this term pupils will enjoy sessions in managing their money at university, and cooking on a budget. (We are looking forward to trying the recipes ourselves too!)

Year 12 Study Days and Subject Exploration Days

Last term, we hosted our first virtual Study Day, in Maths. 39 pupils attended, and we were delighted that many pupil favourites, such as interactive sessions with Professor Stuart White, Tutorial Fellow in Mathematics, and Dr Tom Crawford, lecturer in Maths at Oxford, were able to go ahead using interactive online platforms. Dr James Munro, Admissions & Outreach Coordinator and host of the Oxford Online Maths Club introduced pupils to the Maths Institute, and was able to answer questions about Maths at Oxford.

Classics 2021Each year, the Classics and Ancient History Essay Competition (CAHEC) challenges pupils to submit an essay answering a question set by one of our St John’s tutors. This year, the questions were set and essays marked by Dr Emma Greensmith (Fellow in Classical Literature), Dr Georgy Kantor (Fellow in Ancient History), Dr Alison Pollard (Lecturer in Classical Archaeology), and Professor Alison Hills (Fellow in Philosophy). We were amazed that a record-breaking 203 pupils entered the CAHEC, and congratulate the winners on some truly wonderful essays!

Every pupil who submitted a CAHEC essay was invited to a virtual Subject Exploration Afternoon, and we were very excited to welcome 137 pupils to this event – the largest number in the history of the competition! Pupils attended two interactive academic sessions from a choice of 8, with sessions led by each of the four tutors who set essays, plus Dr Panayiotis Christoforou (Lecturer in Ancient History), Dr Matthew Hosty (Lecturer in Classical Languages), Dr Justine Potts (Woodhouse Junior Research Fellow in Classics) and Dr Karolina Sekita (Woodhouse Junior Research Fellow in Classics).

Summer Schools

All participants enrolled in an Inspire Programme strand – from Years 10, 11 and 12 – will be invited to join our Summer Schools, which this year will be taking place entirely virtually on Inspire Digital. The Summer Schools for each strand will include a combination of challenges, competitions, video lectures, virtual tours, and more, with a focus on both academic enrichment and skills development.

Opportunity Oxford

St John’s took part in a welcome session for all of our Opportunity Oxford offer-holders. Admission staff and two experienced Student Helpers spent an enjoyable 45 minutes chatting with the offer-holders and answering some of their questions. It was a great way for us to get to know them and for them to feel assured of a warm welcome when they arrive in October. We are looking forward to meeting up with them again soon.

Oxford Explained

We are now pleased to offer virtual school visits to schools in our link regions, which will comprise an ‘Oxford Explained’ talk and a Q&A with St John’s Access staff and students. We intend to run a number of these sessions over the next term, and schools are able to contact us about reserving a session here. We are also developing a termly newsletter for teachers in our link schools which will provide a helpful summary of St John’s and Inspire events that their students may be interested in, as well as opportunities more widely across the University.

The Ambassador Platform (TAP)

The Ambassador Platform (TAP), allows pupils to have conversations with our St John’s students in a moderated online forum. Last term, we trialed TAP sessions alongside our virtual events, and found that pupils really enjoyed it, and that they appreciated the chance to hear directly from current undergraduates.

As a result of this success, we are excited to be officially launching TAP this term on a dedicated SJC Inspire webpage.  A team of 17 Student Ambassadors in a range of subjects are available to answer questions from pupils, and members of our Access Team are also on hand to talk to pupil, parents and teachers about our programmes and admissions processes. We look forward to chatting you soon!