Rivington and Blackrod students on the road to Oxbridge

Paul Canning, Sam Slater, aged 19, Abigail Roberts, aged 17, Emily Whittle, aged 16, Harriet Weston, Clare Gore, both aged 17, and Abbie Horan, aged 16. Inset: St John’s College

Paul Canning, Sam Slater, aged 19, Abigail Roberts, aged 17, Emily Whittle, aged 16, Harriet Weston, Clare Gore, both aged 17, and Abbie Horan, aged 16. Inset: St John’s College

First published in News The Bolton News: Photograph of the Author by , education reporter

THESE bright young things at Rivington and Blackrod High School have their eyes on a place at the world’s top universities.

The Horwich school has established a link with one of Cambridge University’s oldest colleges to inspire more students in Bolton to study at leading higher education establishments.

A national survey by the Sutton Trust revealed that less than half of secondary state school teachers say they would advise their brightest pupils to apply to Oxford and Cambridge universities.

But at Rivington and Blackrod School there is a tradition of encouraging pupils to aspire to go to the very best universities while still in secondary school with trips to Oxford University in year 10.

Oxbridge-calibre students are identified during their interview for the school’s sixth form and annual visits are organised to St John’s College in Cambridge to break the stereotype that only students who have been privately educated can attend such institutions.

At the start of the academic year, St John’s College which dates back to 1511, contacted the school to establish a closer link which will also benefit other students in Bolton.

Paul Canning, director of sixth form, said: “We have been organising trips for pupils to St John’s College for a number of years.

“It is a part of encouraging them to aim higher and our raising aspirations programme to breaking down the perceptions they may have.

“Not enough young people from Bolton, who deserve a place at Cambridge or Oxford, go there. In July students from this school and Turton will spend two days in St John’s.”

Thanks to the new link, the school has a “hotline” to the college.

Representatives from the university will visit the school to talk to parents and students and there will be special workshops for teachers. Mr Canning said: “We want to at least double the number of young people at this school applying to Oxbridge but straight As are not enough to get students a place. “The school has a strong enrichment programme with students taking part in a 100-hour programme and activities from helping years seven and eight with reading and maths, to sports.”

Some students already have their heart set on Oxbridge while others aspire to go there or other leading universities after the visits.

Sam Slater, aged 19, took a year out after not getting into Exeter College, Oxford, first time round to apply again and is now working as a learning mentor at the school. He will be studying philosophy, politics and science and was helped by his teachers to go through the interview and selection process again.

Sam said: “I had to decline my other university places so it was a bit of risk because Durham had accepted me. But the visit really instilled in me that I wanted to go to Oxford. It is a good idea to take children to these university because it opens their eyes to the fact they are not exclusive to people from Harrow.”

Emily Whittle, aged 16, wants to study veterinary science.

She said: “I had never thought of Cambridge because I am not from a private school or have had a private tutor.

“After the visits I really liked the idea of going and all the teachers have been really supportive in telling me to go for it.”

Abigail Roberts, aged 17, who wants to study musical theatre or maths, added: “If you work hard enough to you can do it.”

Clare Gore, aged 17, said: “The link and visits are a good idea because you do see that students who go there are not all from private schools. When we visited I really liked the feel of the place.”

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