On Wednesday 24 May, the College held an event showcasing the College’s outreach activities and our aims to make Churchill accessible to all of the brightest students, regardless of their background.

Promoting access to students from a diverse range of backgrounds has always been an important part of Churchill College’s mission. Churchill College was a pioneer in this respect, being one of the first colleges to introduce a residential sixth form visit in the 1970s, an initiative of Dick Tizard’s. We explored this legacy by looking at the widening participation work currently being carried out.

Dr Jonathan Padley (Lead Admissions Tutor) explained the need to publicise high-quality information in order to assist applicants to make a competitive application. He stressed the importance of developing and maintaining relationships with potential applicants and supporters throughout the process. The College seeks to innovate and deliver events and programmes to encourage applications from the widest possible applicant base, especially those who might not ordinarily think of Oxbridge as being for them. He discussed the need to sustain an evidence-base to defend and refine this work as an ongoing project.

This important work has already led to stellar results. The College has now reached gender parity of undergraduate entry in recent years, has a state school intake of 75% (as high as 80% in 2021), and has seen a significant increase in students from underrepresented backgrounds, e.g. those who were eligible for Free School Meals, or have multiple indices of deprivation.

Our CORE Fellow (Community, Outreach and Recruitment in Engineering), Dr Rachel Thorley, introduced Sustainable Urban Futures, an innovative, new, summer residential programme at Churchill. Seeking to engage talented 16-17 year olds from underrepresented backgrounds, this programme fosters teamwork and explores subjects related to sustainable development.

Participants will come together in teams to construct temporary ‘homes’ inspired by informal settlement shelters. By exploring cultural and historical context and honing their design and innovation skills, they transform these shelters into comfortable and practical living spaces. The programme also provides an opportunity for participants to explore university options. Prior to the residential, Churchill’s architecture and engineering students are designing and making reusable shelters that can be assembled and disassembled with minimal tools. Looking forward, our hope is to expand this initiative and reach different communities by bringing the shelters on a road trip. The grand finale of this year’s programme takes place on 25 August at the College, featuring a showcase of student work and the chance to meet inspiring role models.

Rachel would love alumni to help spread the word about the programme, especially to any teachers, schools or sixth-form providers you know! Do share our website for Year 12 students and teachers.

Our final speaker was alumnus Dr Ian Benson (U67), the Director of Sociality Mathematics CIC, a social enterprise asset-locked to Churchill College. From 2015-20 he was a Trustee of the Association of Teachers of Mathematics (ATM). He is an affiliate of the McCandliss Program in educational neuroscience at the Stanford University Graduate School of Education, and an honorary research fellow at the University of Roehampton (Education) and has been a visiting scholar (Computer Science) at Stanford, a visiting professor (Informatics) at Theseus Institute, Sophia Antipolis and at Kingston University (with Mathematics).

School mathematics faces many challenges, not least the fact that 30% of primary school leavers fail to reach expected levels in national assessments. At Dick Tizard’s instigation, Ian and his colleagues have been working since 2004 with over 30 primary and secondary schools to research and develop a school mathematics curriculum that integrates the learning and teaching of mathematics with computer science. The initiative set out to assist the Secretary of State to re-evaluate the pedagogy and curriculum for early algebra pioneered by Caleb Gattegno – founding Director of Studies of the ATM. The work forms the basis for a major project to unify school mathematics and informatics teaching.

Contact Rachel Thorley

Read more about our access and outreach work

Information for teachers about our Sustainable Futures programme

Book to attend the Sustainable Futures Grand Final

Read about Ian’s work in the FT