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Lucy Cavendish launches new scheme to support high-achieving state school and college students

About the the Programme

The transition to A-Level (or equivalent) studies can be demanding, with this year posing an even greater set of challenges. The College’s Summer Preparation Programme, run for the first time this year, was designed with this in mind, aiming to bridge the gap between GCSE (or equivalent) study to A-Levels (or equivalent). The Programme supported almost 200 high-achieving state school and college students, many of whom were from underrepresented or disadvantaged backgrounds. The programme was run over the summer holidays for six weeks and took place entirely online.

Dr Mark King, Lucy’s Admissions Director said:

“The Covid-19 pandemic has only exacerbated existing educational inequality in the UK and widened further the attainment gap between students from the most and least privileged backgrounds.  At Lucy Cavendish, we believe it is vital that British HE institutions respond to this growing problem.  Our programme aims to tackle this issue head on, providing supplementary academic support for talented, deserving students and widening their intellectual horizons such that they can stand the best chance of achieving at their full potential.  We are delighted with the success of our initial Summer Programme and now look forward to expanding it to attempt to make as much difference as possible to as many students as we can.”

Based on their existing subject interests, students were placed on either the Sciences and Maths or Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences track, and attended weekly subject-specific sessions which aimed to strengthen students' skills and knowledge so that they make a strong start to A-Level or equivalent study. Students completed preparatory work for each session and will also have the chance to do follow-up extension work after the session. Students were also able to experience subjects they have never studied formally in school before so that they can begin to think more seriously about possible degree routes.

Alongside these subject-specific sessions, students on both tracks of the programme also benefited from weekly study skills sessions, on important themes such as time management and note taking, and university preparation workshops. These workshops aimed to help students to develop their subject-specific skills and knowledge, improve general study skills in preparation for starting post-16 study, and strengthen their understanding of how to make a competitive application to top Universities like Cambridge. 

Applying to University

Students’ knowledge about applying to top universities increased over the course of the programme. Before starting the programme, over 60% of students felt that they knew less than half of what they needed to know about applying to top universities, and they rated their knowledge of applying to top universities as 4.7/10 on average. Following the programme, 99% felt confident that they know at least the basic process and they rated their knowledge as 8/10 on average.

Furthermore, students’ confidence about the Cambridge application process more than doubled over the course of the programme: Before the programme, students rated their knowledge of applying to Cambridge as 3.8/10 on average, with only 27% of students feeling that they knew the basic process about applying to Cambridge specifically. After the programme, students rated their knowledge about applying to Cambridge as 8.2/10 on average. Equally, 73% felt they knew the basic process, including 10% who felt that they know ‘everything that [they] need to’. 

Students’ comments indicated that they gained not only a confidence in applying to universities, but also immediate and practical support:

“I have gotten the opportunity to solidify my A-Level choices and what is best for me in the future when it comes to applying to university.”

“[The programme] has helped me consolidate my ideas about higher education and what I would like to do in the coming years, so I now feel confident that I know what I want and what I need to do to reach my goals.”

“I also found the university readiness sessions really reassuring and really helped me to gain confidence in applying to universities, such as Cambridge.”

Following the programme, students were also more likely to apply to Cambridge University: 44% of students said they were very likely or certain that they would apply to Cambridge, compared to 32% before the programme. For some students, the programme seems to have played a powerful role in making Cambridge a possible option, and enthusing them about the prospect of studying here:

“[The programme] has definitely made me believe that striving towards a place within Oxbridge is more attainable than I had previously thought.”

“I have been able to have serious conversations about going to Oxbridge and learn from Cambridge itself what it takes to be a Cambridge candidate. What would initially seem a daunting experience has been made easy, accessible and understandable.”

“The programme really opened my eyes to the range of research being conducted by Cambridge-based scientists, which has made me even more determined to apply.” 

Study Skills

The programme dramatically increased students’ confidence in all academic skills for which there were sessions: time management, critical reading, note taking, essay writing, effective revision techniques and oracy. Overall, students’ confidence in academic skills increased by 23 percentage points over the course of the programme.

Students comments indicated that they found these sessions extremely valuable, and that they recognised the importance and usefulness of all the skills covered.

“After these sessions, I feel much more confident in my academic skills, so I believe studying will be more efficient and I will be able to perform better in exams. I feel like the advice given will stay with me for a long time, and will be highly beneficial in the future.”

“I found [the academic skills sessions] very engaging and useful, and I really liked that we got to interact with the content being presented by asking questions and trying the activities the presenters gave us!”

“[The Oracy session] showed me the importance of being a confident speaker and being able to articulate a well-thought out response to any difficulty of question.”


Subject-specific Academic Enrichment

Overall, students’ feedback show that they found the subject-specific academic enrichment sessions very useful, interesting, and engaging. Students’ comments indicate that they enjoyed the interactivity of the sessions and the opportunity to explore their subject beyond the curriculum.

History, Economics and English Literature were among the sessions to particularly stand out for students on the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences stream:

“I enjoyed the interaction with other people in the [History session] and the debates we had”

[The Economics session] was very informative and it was good to hear a perspective from an expert in the economic sector.

“The [English Literature session leader] really engaged with our questions and allowed us to offer up our own opinions.”

On the Sciences and Maths stream, Medicine, Mathematics and Physics were some of the most successful sessions

“I found the Physics session to be the most enjoyable as it expanded my knowledge of more complicated concepts by using my pre-existing GCSE knowledge”

“I loved the interactive aspects [of the Medicine session] and how much the speakers challenged us- it was nice to be exposed to areas of research and science that I've not really looked into.”

“The information taught [in the Maths session] was very interesting: complicated enough to be challenging but presented in such a way so as to still be engaging.”

With regards to subject knowledge, 95% felt that their subject-specific knowledge grew over the course of the programme, and 58% felt that the subject-specific sessions helped supplement GCSE learning that was disrupted due to Covid-19.

Furthermore, 84% of students felt that the subject-specific sessions helped them decide what they might like to study at university. Before the programme, 26% of students were certain about applying for their chosen course at university, compared to 35% of students following the programme.

“I think my course choice is more well-informed and my interest has expanded to a greater range of subtopics within my field of interest.”

Confidence for A-Levels

More broadly, the Summer Preparation Programme was successful at preparing them for sixth form: 96% of students feel more confident about starting their A-Levels following the programme. Comments point to this as well:

“[The Summer Preparation Programme] has helped me fill in any gaps from GCSE, as well as bridge the gap for A levels. It has helped me consolidate my ideas about higher education and what I would like to do in the coming years, so I know feel confident that I know what I want and what I need to do to reach my goals. Furthermore, the presentations really inspired me and gave me a huge boost of motivation and excitement for sixth form, deepening my interest in my field as well as helping me understand how I can excel in my studies and further explore my interests outside of the school syllabus.”

“The programme allowed me to see how subjects were studied at a higher, university level which has really helped me understand what I need to do at A-Level to develop skills”

Future Plans

The College intends to build on the success of this programme by offering the students continual support throughout this academic year. The programme will also be opening to additional high-achieving state school students, to increase the programme’s reach and impact. The programme will be renamed the ‘Lucy Cavendish College Academic Enrichment Programme’ and will become its flagship outreach programme.

After giving students some time to settle into sixth form, College will continue to offer regular subject-specific academic enrichment workshops, study skills workshops and university readiness workshops throughout the academic year. Additionally, peer discussion groups will be facilitated, which will allow students to build a network of peers who share their interests and aspirations. The student ambassador network, launching in October, will also have significant involvement with the running of these sessions. There will also be an intensive, week-long university application ‘bootcamp’ in the summer, to provide additional, focussed support with students’ applications.

While the programme will primarily be run online, students will be offered the opportunity to visit Cambridge and Lucy Cavendish College, if circumstances allow, over the coming academic year.