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Sixthform students set their sights on Oxbridge

Honours students in lessons on campus at Rating Lane

A bumper cohort of high-flying students have been encouraged to consider applying to Oxford, Cambridge and other leading universities as they start at Barrow Sixth Form College.

Some 54 students – the highest number yet – have joined the Honours programme at the Rating Lane campus after achieving top grades in their GCSEs at school.

At their welcome meeting, they had a live Teams presentation from Katharine Wiggell who works in the outreach team at the University of Oxford’s Queens College.

She gave insights into how students are selected, explaining how to make your application stand out and busted the myth that all Oxbridge students are from privileged backgrounds by showing them the latest statistics of applicants from state schools.

She also spoke about universities that have a college structure, including Lancaster University, which backs the college’s Honours programme.

The students are from schools including St Bernard’s, Dowdales, Walney, Furness Academy and the college’s partner school Chetwynde.

Jake Warren, who completed his GCSEs at Furness Academy, is aiming for a science degree in chemistry or biology and following the presentation is now considering applying to Oxbridge universities.

“The Honours programme is really good, it’s useful and gives us a bit of an advantage to have those extra opportunities in our studies. I didn’t really know what Oxford or Cambridge was all about so now I have got a bit of a better idea of the layout and the concept. Beforehand I wasn’t really thinking of applying because I might not get in but I’m definitely going to apply.”

Fleur Wood and Jessica Brockbanks both joined sixth form from St Bernard’s School. Fleur, who aims to study a degree in veterinary medicine at Cambridge University, said: “It is nice to know that we are being given opportunities that not everyone else gets to try to help us achieve places at the top universities.”

Jessica, who hopes to study a degree in marine biology, added: “It’s good that we are getting some guidance on how to get to the higher-level universities that might seem a bit scary to go to. The session was really informative and helped me see a bit more clearly what is expected at Cambridge and Oxford.”

Honours students have the chance to specialise in their favourite A level subject, from across the wide range offered, with additional mentoring from expert tutors who challenge the students to bring out the best in them academically. Many will also complete the extended project qualification, which is equivalent to half an A level and enables student to pursue a research project related to their future ambitions.

Katharine Wiggell, schools liaison, outreach & recruitment officer, said the students really made the most of the virtual session asking lots of questions. “By helping the Honours Programme students to get a better understanding of the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, I hope that they’ll feel confident in their decision should they choose to apply there next year, and that they recognise that these are universities in which they would thrive,” she said.

“The Honours Programme at Barrow Sixth Form is so important because it helps students to develop their confidence and to raise their aspirations when thinking about their futures. It should never be the case that a bright and capable student – as all those who are a part of the Honours Programme are – feels like a certain university or higher education opportunity if off limits because of who they are, where they come from or what their past experiences have been.

“The teachers at Barrow Sixth Form don’t limit the expectations that are so often placed on pupils at other schools, and in turn, this encourages the students themselves to have more self-belief, aim high in their university choices, and to reach their academic potential.”

Assistant Head of Sixth Form Helen Rastelli, who runs the Honours programme, said it was now in its fifth year. “It was great to hear from Katharine who explained to our students what the top universities are looking for. It’s not just those who are very academic but those who can problem solve, self-direct their own study and have a genuine enthusiasm and passion for the subject.

“We are delighted to have so many students on our programme this year. It will provide extra challenge to them to achieve their very best and mentoring in a subject they love and want to learn more about.

“Our Honours students develop key skills needed for university such as independent learning, research and report writing. It’s a chance to study without boundaries because they can learn beyond the course specification.”

Leanne Taher-Bates, Head of Outreach and Student Success at Lancaster University which backs the programme, said: “We are delighted to see that the Honours programme continues to go from strength to strength at Barrow Sixth Form. The dedicated academic support and HE skills preparation that the students benefit from is invaluable for their transition to university and life beyond the classroom. Lancaster is committed to widening access and supporting social mobility at every stage of the student lifecycle to raise attainment and support young people to achieve their aspirations.

“This partnership is ensuring some of the most able students in the Barrow area have the expert guidance they need to enable them to reach their goal and continue their academic studies at the highest level, including at a top 10 university such as Lancaster.”

Students are identified by their school in Year 10 and nominated for a place, with meetings taking place in Year 10 and Year 11. To be accepted onto the Honours Programme, students need to achieve an average GCSE score of at least 7.0, which means mainly grades 7, 8 or 9 (legacy GCSEs at A or A* grades).

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