Withernsea High School

Withernsea High School

Inspiring confident young people to thrive in a changing world


  1. News
  2. February 2024
  3. Aspirational outreach programme addresses misconceptions about higher education  

Aspirational outreach programme addresses misconceptions about higher education  

20 February 2024 (by admin)

Misconceptions about higher education and entry routes into Oxbridge have been challenged in an engaging session at Withernsea High School as students begin exploring their post-16 possibilities. 

Around thirty Year 10 students learned about life at the University of Cambridge, its collegiate system, and the wide variety of available courses, from Ellie Nethaway - an Outreach Officer at King’s College.

The session provided an opportunity to dispel some common myths, particularly surrounding perceived elitism, social barriers, and financial disadvantages, which may otherwise discourage young people from exploring routes into Oxford, Cambridge and other Russell Group universities.   

A more general look at accessing university education was also explored, with particular focus given to entry requirements and the desirable subject combinations needed to unlock access to highly competitive degree courses. Students also discovered that a variety of courses they thought may be unattainable were actually more accessible than they had previously realised.

Through the University of Cambridge’s current Access and Participation plan, it is acknowledged that there are many social, economic and educational factors that create inequality within the pool of applicants to higher education.

For over twenty years, the university’s College Area Links Scheme has helped to build strong, effective relationships between Cambridge’s 31 autonomous colleges, and schools and colleges across the UK. This is part of a commitment to widening participation in higher education by achieving an intake that is reflective of UK society - providing equality of educational opportunity for all those who study at Cambridge.

Although the Area Links Scheme builds a connection between specific areas and assigned colleges, it does not preclude students from contacting, or being contacted by, other Cambridge colleges. There is no expectation or obligation for students to apply to their relevant link college, and their participation does not influence whether colleges invite applicants for interview or offer them places.

The main aim of the nationwide outreach programme is to offer an insight into student life at one of the world’s leading universities and it is therefore an essential tool in helping the university to connect with young people around the country, particularly in areas such as Holderness, where geographical location in its most rural parts can sometimes be seen as a barrier to aspirations. 

Leading the responsibility for outreach work at schools and colleges across Yorkshire is Ellie Nethaway. “As a Schools Liaison Officer at King’s College, my job is essentially travelling around schools in Yorkshire and the North East to work with groups of students as they explore post-16 options and A level choices. Part of this experience is to introduce students to university life, both in general and, more specifically, what they can expect at Cambridge.

“There are still a lot of misconceptions about attending Cambridge and other top universities, with some people thinking that they won’t fit in there. One of the reasons why I really like working with schools is that I can help students to realise they can actually study anywhere they want. At Cambridge, we’ve got students from all over the country and I want to make sure this remains the case. Anyone from any background, regardless of location or status, has the potential to reach their destination of choice.”

Reflecting on some of the more common misconceptions about her role, and students’ initial thoughts about studying at Oxford or Cambridge, Ellie added: “Everyone thinks I’m going to be posh! I’m literally from Essex and the least posh person you’ve ever met!

“I know from my experience working in the Cambridge admissions office that universities are looking for the best students, no matter where they’re from – their background isn’t really relevant. There’s so much support available to help students who need it, so I just want to make sure that people are aware that top universities remain in reach and to ensure that any available support can go to the right places.

“Another misconception is that people think it’s more expensive going to Cambridge. They also think that the cost involved with attending university in general, and moving away from home, means they can’t afford to go. Explaining student finance and how loans work makes a big difference as well. There is so much support available, including bursaries, especially at universities like Cambridge who have access to a lot of money.”

While there are a number of barriers to higher education, student finance remains a primary concern for many people exploring university as an option. Commonly, student loans are split into two parts: a tuition fee loan to cover the cost of studying, and a maintenance loan to help with the cost of living while studying.

With much talk in the media about student finance, and lots of information to take in, where can parents/carers and prospective students find clear, impartial information and advice?

“Honestly, one of the best sources of information about student loans is the Money Saving Expert, Martin Lewis. He explains things so well and has lots of information on his website, and videos on YouTube, that explain things in a very clear way.”

“Some university websites and student finance documents can be a bit of a minefield. They can be a bit overwhelming and a bit painful to work through. Martin Lewis does such a good job of explaining things and collating information - his advice is honestly such a good place to start for anyone wanting to explore student finance.”

Reflecting on her visit to Withernsea High School, Ellie added: “It was a pleasure to return to Withernsea. The students here are always really keen to learn and are among some of the nicest groups that I work with. They were really engaged with the session, which was really lovely to see, and they asked lots of great questions.”

School Careers Leader, Viki Foster, said: “Our Year 10 students all engaged with the session really well, giving really good answers and asking their own well thought out questions about the college system and student life.

“Although led by the Cambridge outreach programme, this valuable session also provided an opportunity for students to explore university life in general – looking at how they should pick the routes and subjects for post-16 study, and the variety of degrees that are available.  

“As part of our obligation to deliver an impartial careers programme, opportunities such as these are essential in helping our students to make their own informed choices about their futures. If aiming for Cambridge or other Russell Group universities is their goal, we will encourage and support them. It is important for students to realise that study at Oxbridge is achievable and is not something that is beyond their reach.

“In recent years, we have had a number of students who have gone on to study at Oxford and Cambridge and we are committed to supporting any students that want to aim for these universities in the future by ensuring that they are equipped with all the knowledge, information, advice and guidance needed for them to realise their aspirations.”

The Russell Group represents 24 leading UK universities, including the universities of Leeds, Sheffield and York, whose collective belief is that ‘people and ideas are the key to meeting global challenges’. Together, the group’s member universities generate approximately £87 billion every year for the UK economy. They employ a quarter of a million people and teach one quarter of the UK’s undergraduate students.

The opportunity for high school students to experience encounters with further and higher education providers is one of the eight requirements of the Gatsby Benchmarks, a national framework for the delivery of careers education in schools and colleges, where it is stated that: ‘all pupils should understand the full range of learning opportunities that are available to them. This includes both academic and vocational routes and learning in schools, colleges, universities and in the workplace.’

At Withernsea High School, this includes visits to further/higher education providers for taster days and interaction with representatives from such providers, including the Cambridge Outreach Programme, who regularly visit the school to work with students as part of their five-year careers journey.

Meanwhile, for the school’s Year 10 cohort, this recent interaction marked the starting point of a more focussed approach to exploring post-16 options. This will build and continue into Year 11 where they will begin to give serious consideration towards their next steps and go through the application process for post-16 destinations of choice.

Later this academic year, Year 10 will also be given the chance to experience a week of Work Experience. This valuable opportunity gives young people a first-hand experience of a workplace environment, helping them to understand how the world of work operates and how it differs from life in school. It also helps to shine a light on the pathways and progression required to enter a variety of professions, helping young people to understand the routes and qualifications needed to achieve their goals.

For Martin Lewis’ advice on student finance, please visit: http://www.moneysavingexpert.com/students  

ABOVE: Ellie Nethaway, a Schools Liaison and Outreach Officer from Cambridge University, worked with a group of Year 10 students at Withernsea High School to discuss university life and answer students’ questions.

ABOVE: Ellie Nethaway (left) with Viki Foster, Careers Leader at Withernsea High School. As part of the university’s Area Links Scheme, Withernsea High School is assigned to King’s College.  





Share this:

Back to the Top