A level success for Oxford's UNIQ summer school students

Among the students celebrating their A-level results this year are those who attended the first year of Oxford's UNIQ summer school for state school students in 2010 - and many of them are coming to Oxford.

133 UNIQ students have had Oxford places confirmed, meaning that over a quarter (26.2%) of all attendees on the first ever UNIQ summer school will go on to study at Oxford. Of those UNIQ students who put in applications, over 39% ended up with places – against an overall success rate for Oxford applicants of around 20%. 

One of the students with a lot to celebrate is Ann Tivey, who secured her place at Oxford thanks to earning A* grades in Chemistry, Biology, Maths and English Literature. She attended Oxford’s UNIQ summer school for state school students last year and subsequently applied to study medicine at Magdalen College with the support of her father after her mother died in 2007. She attends the Burford School, a mixed comprehensive in West Oxford that sends few students to Oxford.

She says of her experience with UNIQ: ‘The practical help in my application that I gained from attending the UNIQ summer school last year was really important. However, probably even more important was the confidence the UNIQ experience gave me that studying at Oxford was both a possible aspiration, and a good one for me to have.

'I had always been encouraged by my parents to aim high but I myself was not at all confident about getting in to study medicine at such a competitive university or whether it would be right for me if I did. The summer school made me realise that if I had the chance to study at Oxford it would be right for me and that I would regret it if I didn't at least try. I have been telling students following me at Burford School to try to get on the UNIQ courses to give them the same confidence if they are interested in studying at Oxford.’

Lauren Passby has plenty to celebrate as well: Her Northamptonshire school was placed in Special Measures by Ofsted two years ago and had little history of students applying to Oxford, yet she confirmed her place studying medicine at Lady Margaret Hall by scoring A* grades in Biology and English Literature, along with A grades in Maths and Chemistry. She said: ‘UNIQ introduced me to the collegiate life at Oxford and I instantly knew that this was where I wanted to study. Experiencing lectures and tutorials gave an insight into the academic aspect of the course whilst staying in the colleges with fellow UNIQers emulated a college life that I very much enjoyed.

‘By addressing and disproving the popular stereotypes of Oxford students, UNIQ gave me the confidence to apply to Oxford, despite coming from what I had previously perceived to be an atypical educational background. The preparatory interview work and resources provided by UNIQ proved invaluable for me in December and helped to dispel any myths regarding the infamous "Oxbridge interviews".’

Georgia Featherston, from Burbage, Leicestershire, attended John Cleveland College in Hinckley, a 14-18 state college, and has a place to study biology at Hertford College thanks to A* grades in History and Biology and an A in Chemistry. She said: ‘When I was told I could be an Oxbridge candidate by my form tutor a few years back, my family and I did not even know what the term meant! The school really encouraged my application and gave me support throughout the process, highlighting to me the opportunity to attend UNIQ. My family is extremely proud and appreciative of the hard work that has gone in to get an offer. Most of all my biology teacher, Mr Fraine, was over the moon.’

Other UNIQ students whose A-level results confirmed their places at Oxford include Rebecca Frew from Cardiff, who posted the best result in Cathay High School’s history by achieving four A* grades – in Physics, Biology, Chemistry and Maths. She will be studying earth sciences at Exeter College, while Holly Quinlan from Stoke scored three A* grades – in English Literature, History and Geography – to earn her place at Exeter College studying History. The first in her family to attend university, she is from Stoke-on-Trent and attended Biddulph High School, a 13-19 mixed comprehensive. She says, ‘My family was so proud to hear I'd got an offer from Oxford - I found out a bit before Christmas so there was a lot of congratulations as well as presents. My friends and schoolmates have been very supportive as well.’

Oxford Director of Undergraduate Admissions Mike Nicholson said: ‘UNIQ is a crucial part of Oxford’s access work. And we know it works: 26% of all last year’s UNIQ students are coming to Oxford. UNIQ students who went on to apply to Oxford had double the success rate for Oxford applicants overall. We know that talent and potential can be found in schools and neighbourhoods everywhere in the UK, but some talented students face more barriers than others when it comes to getting the support they need to apply to Oxford – and those are the ones we try to reach with programmes like UNIQ.’

Oxford’s UNIQ Summer School is a flagship access programme targeting students from groups that are underrepresented at Oxford who attend UK state schools and have strong academic backgrounds. The programme targets students from socio-economically deprived areas of the country, from areas where few people go on to university, and who have achieved top grades at schools with relatively low average results. Students attend a free week-long summer school at Oxford, where they get a chance to study subjects in depth and learn what living and studying at Oxford is like.

In 2010, the first UNIQ summer school offered 507 students the opportunity to try one of twenty different subjects. The number of students on the summer school will rise each year to reach 1,000 places by 2014. It is anticipated that every undergraduate course will eventually be represented on the summer school.