A year of lockdowns and disruption has not stopped the St John’s Access and Admissions Office: we have been hard at work engaging with the hundreds of young people enrolled on our programmes from across the UK.

In fact, with over 1,500 pupils participating in the various strands of our Inspire Programme, 2020-21 was our biggest year yet. Last term, as things gradually began to open up once more, we were delighted to be able to start making a return to in-person activity in our Pre-GCSE link schools, while continuing with online engagement across all our programmes, including a virtual summer school, open days, and a whole host of exciting academic talks and skills sessions.

Pre-GCSE Programme

When in-person activities on our sustained-contact Pre-GCSE Inspire Programme in Ealing and Harrow were suspended due to the pandemic, we never could have imagined it would be over a year before they would resume again. Although the programme kept going virtually in all of our link schools throughout the whole of the pandemic, there is no substitute for being in the classroom, and we’ve been thrilled to see pupils getting back with their peers and their Teacher Coordiantors on the programme at long last, for face-to-face Inspire Clubs.

Image 2.jpg Pupils in Ealing building molecule chains in a Chemistry workshop for the Pre-GCSE Programme

New sessions in the summer included workshops on Music, in which pupils debated the question ‘Has technology improved music?’ as they explored music technology from Ancient Greece through to modern music festivals; and a pair of Design & Technology workshops in which pupils had to get creative with a challenge to create prototype models using nothing but card, sellotape and lollipop sticks!

This year, face-to-face sessions are continuing, and there are several new workshops coming out this term, in subjects ranging from English & Drama to Geography and Computer Science.

Post-GCSE Inspire Programme

Our virtual Year 12 Inspire Programme concluded in the summer, continuing the programme of taster lectures, articles, skills development sessions and academic competitions that kicked off in March with a total of 137 pupils across two parallel strands (Arts & Humanities and STEM).

Trinity Term saw a packed programme of new taster sessions delivered remotely by St John’s academics. On the STEM strand this included a fascinating talk on ‘The Universe Beyond the Visible’ with Professor Katherine Blundell, while Dr Elizabeth Wonnacott shared insights from her research into children’s acquisition of language. Meanwhile, pupils on the Arts & Humanities grappled with the question ‘How Do People Persist Through Time?’ posed by philosophy fellow Professor Nick Jones, and learned about ‘Tradition and Innovation in Modern Poetry’ with Dr George Potts.

Beyond the academic taster sessions, participants were also able to join a variety of interactive skills development sessions designed to help them navigate their journeys from school to higher education. Last term this ranged from Personal Statement guidance from Causeway Education (which we hope is being put to good use now we’re approaching UCAS deadline season!) to practical demonstrations of cooking on a budget with The Kids’ Table – a handy skill to have in any walk of life!

Inspire Summer School

Our 2021 Virtual Inspire Summer School was a huge success – with three parallel strands running, and over 1,000 visitors to the Inspire Digital website during the first week of the alone, it was our biggest summer school yet. Timetables were packed with a wide range of academic talks, activities, and skills sessions; you can browse the full timetables of all three strands of the Summer School on Inspire Digital

Image 3.jpg ‘Are humans ruining the earth?’ by Tejuspreet, a Year 10 participant in the Inspire Summer School

Some of our most popular sessions included Goal-Mapping hosted by Positively MAD – which has prompted some very ambitious responses! – and Noisy Classroom’s video masterclass on writing and delivering a persuasive speech, with participants sending in their speeches on such wide-ranging topics as the impact of climate change and why dance should be considered a sport. The Oxford University Museum of Natural History’s session on whether we should eat insects and academic talks on ‘Getting to Grips with the Greek Gods’ with Dr Emma Greensmith also proved very popular.

Participants on the Pre-GCSE Programme examined what counts as realism in literature and whether there could be life on Mars, while pupils on the Year 10 and 11 Programme considered how to take the perfect penalty and the maths of marathon running with Dr Tom Crawford – particularly apt during a summer packed full of major sporting events such as the Olympics and the European Championships. 

Image 4.jpg Poster produced by Vahini, a Year 12 participant on the Inspire Summer School

As well as the exciting range of academic talks and skills sessions, our Year 12 summer school had an additional theme of Careers, and so students had access to a Careers Inspiration Hub featuring videos from a range of graduates – including several of St John’s own alumni – talking about their working life. There were nine featured careers throughout the week, ranging from research scientist and IT professional to solicitor and author, with each page including further resources and related activities. A particular highlight was Oxford East MP Anneliese Dodds telling us the story of the time she cooked a jalfrezi for a friend when she was an undergraduate!

Examples of some of the fantastic pieces of work submitted by our Summer School participants can be found on Inspire Digital.

Virtual Open Days

Image 5.jpgWe hosted three Virtual Open Days this summer, on 30th June, 1st July, and 17th September, and although we were still not able to have Open Day visitors on-site, that did not stop us putting on a packed programme of activities for prospective applicants. Led by Admissions Officer Sarah Jones, with her team of experienced helpers, the Open Days gave visitors the opportunity explore the college virtually, to watch videos prepared by our students and tutors, and to participate in a number of sessions throughout each day at which visitors could ask questions of current students. 

Welcome back to St John’s

For the first time since March 2020, we’re delighted that on-site Access visits to the College are now able to resume, and school groups can be with us in-person as well as virtually. We offer visits to groups from non-selective state schools in all of our link areas (Brighton & Hove, Ealing, Harrow, Southampton, and East and West Sussex), and there are a number of activities on offer, from tours and Q&As with student ambassadors, to academic taster sessions and visits to Oxford’s museums. For those who are unable to visit us in Oxford, we have also been busy creating a set of recorded video sessions from our Access and Admissions team, on ‘Oxford Explained’, ‘How to Apply’, and ‘A Quick Guide to Admissions Tests’. Teachers are invited to contact us to book in-person visits: full details can be found on our website, and can sign up to join our mailing list here.