Trinity pilots Year 12 mentoring scheme in response to the pandemic

Trinity’s new Year 12 Mentoring Scheme is designed to combat the negative consequences of the pandemic on pupils’ learning and compensate for support they could have missed out on for the next steps in their educational journey.

Launching on 9 March 2021, the pilot scheme offers 20 places to less-advantaged students with a strong academic record the opportunity to participate in a series of online mentoring sessions and to complete assignments that will enhance their curriculum knowledge and understanding of the Cambridge application process.

Year 12 students will receive 121 mentoring from Trinity undergraduates – online due to COVID restrictions. Photo: Graham CopeKoga

Trinity’s Outreach Coordinator, Jon Datta, who devised the programme, said:

This scheme is a direct response to the educational inequalities both caused and exacerbated by the pandemic. The aim is to bridge the gaps created during the school closure period – which include the lack of the usual face-to-face teaching and careers guidance – in order to prepare the participants to make competitive applications to highly selective universities, including Cambridge.

It is Year 12 students with a strong academic record who are thinking of applying to higher tariff universities whom we feel could particularly benefit from additional academic and skills-based mentoring and guidance.

Students will receive information and guidance on applying to Cambridge. Photo: Trinity College

The pilot scheme offers students intending to apply to Cambridge for 2022 entry one-to-one mentoring by undergraduate mentors, alongside provision by outreach practitioners of information and guidance to enable effective university applications. Each student’s teacher will be invited to join the sessions and be kept informed of progress. Mr Datta said:

We expect the scheme to break down barriers, both real and perceived, to selective universities. We want to be an ongoing point of contact to provide support for students, who will likely feel overwhelmed by the effects of the pandemic constraints on their learning.

Priority will go to students with a strong academic record from schools with no or low progression to university, particularly to Oxford and Cambridge; to those from less-advantaged backgrounds as identified by the government’s Office for Students; to students from ethnic backgrounds under-represented at Cambridge; or to those who are or have been in care, or classified as a refugee.

The deadline for applications is 19 February. For more information please visit Year 12 Mentoring Scheme 2021.

If evaluation proves it is effective, the pilot scheme is likely to be expanded.

Pandemic restrictions mean all access events are online for now. Photo: David Rose

This programme is part of Trinity’s new Outreach Strategy for 2020-2022 that seeks to combat the negative consequences of the pandemic on students’ learning. Mr Datta said:

Research shows that COVID-19 has affected the learning of the least advantaged disproportionately more than other students and that is something we need to address, as it will undoubtedly be students from disadvantaged backgrounds who have suffered the most.

The pandemic has created a quite large disparity between well-resourced schools that are able to provide continuous education to their students of a quality comparable with what they received before 2020, and those which have retreated to a baseline provision, without particular support or encouragement to their students who have high potential.

Trinity’s Outreach Coordinator, Jon Datta. Photo: Trinity College

With pandemic restrictions putting paid to the College’s programme of visits to schools and residential events at Trinity for now, the Outreach Office was galvanised into developing a new range of initiatives that target particular audiences – students, parents and teachers – and reach more people across the UK.

‘It was imperative that we adapted to the current situation quickly and decisively, while ensuring that each programme feeds into a bigger strategic picture to ensure that we make a difference to students at different stages of schooling,’ said Mr Datta, who was Director of School Improvement for a school trust in Hertfordshire before joining the College.

Key elements of Trinity Outreach Strategy include:

  • Working with students from aged 14 upwards in recognition of the need to engage with younger students
  • Targeting outreach activities with bespoke programmes for teachers and parents because they are influential in shaping students’ aspirations and commitment
  • Raising students’ aspirations to achieve their academic potential and their awareness of the range of different paths available to them post-16.
Trinity College Wren Library in the winter of 2009
The Wren Library. Photo: Trinity College

Trinity’s outreach activities are in line with University of Cambridge’s Access and Participation Plan, agreed with the Office for Students, which requires collegiate Cambridge to admit students from the full range of secondary schools and colleges. Mr Datta said:

We therefore need to work with younger students give them a sense of what it means to do more intellectually demanding work if they are to be prepared to take on studies at the level expected at Cambridge after they leave school. Otherwise, there is a risk that a significant portion of our undergraduate intake will find the transition to university-level studies very challenging.

While statistics show that Trinity’s residential events are effective in encouraging less advantaged students to apply, there are upsides to online programmes. They allow more students to take part regardless of geographical location and they are easier for less advantaged students to access. ‘The most disadvantaged students are the ones that are likely to have a job outside of school as well as studying. Using online platforms during this period gives us a greater geographic reach and gives students the flexibility to engage as they can work around their study commitments,’ Mr Datta said.

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