The short terms in Cambridge provide a lot of opportunities for us to do exciting things during the holidays. Some people take on vacation work, others go on holiday using grants from their College … But what have I been doing this last week, I hear you ask? Well, I’ve been going back to school.
Okay, so perhaps a bit of explanation is in order. I haven’t been kicked out of university. I haven’t completely failed all my exams, nor do I have to resit some of my A-Level modules (again). Instead, I’ve been involved with Clare College’s very own Access Bus. The principle of the Access Bus is that, during the University holidays, a group of students go into schools and talk to pupils who might not think that Cambridge is for them, whether because of finance, background or any other myths about Cambridge admissions. We also do more general talks about university life, and try to demonstrate that student life is not all work, work, work. Every Cambridge College is linked with a certain area of the UK, and since two of our link areas are Coventry and Warwickshire, it was to the Midlands that we – that is, six current students and our two Schools Liaison Officers – set off on Sunday night.
Staying in the local area allowed us to visit a lot of schools in a very short space of time. Averaging around five school visits every day between the two ‘teams’, we must have spoken to several hundred pupils by the end of our week. The talks that we did varied according to the age of the students we were visiting, but they typically consisted of explanations of what university ‘is’, the benefits of going to university, and daily life as a student. By the end of the week, I found that I’d got very well-practised in talking about Student Finance, having discussed it on more occasions than I could remember! This, though, was kind of the point: allowing pupils to speak to actual university students, and to ask questions about the nitty-gritty of student living, is one of the main aims of the Access Bus. During the week, I had really inspiring conversations with some wonderful pupils, and I can only hope that the advice and information we gave them will help them as they start to reconsider whether university is really full of poshos and rich people.
Of course, the trip was also really fun to be involved with outside of the school visits. Everything was funded by the College, from the (very comfy) Travelodge we stayed in to our many breakfasts (and even more coffees) in the Morrisons Café down the road. We even found time to relax during the week: on our first full night in Coventry we went bowling together, which allowed everyone else to demonstrate their utter superiority over my ‘lob-it-in-the-right-direction-and-try-not-to-fall-over’ technique. As you can see from the picture on the right, my friend Robin (who, like all the other students, I got to know really well during the week) has mastered how to look really cool whilst also bowling pretty darn well. The fun continued throughout the week, as we made sure that our evenings weren’t completely taken up with planning the next school visit. One particular highlight was going to see ‘Henry IV: Part I’ in Stratford on the Thursday: even if we did need some quick history lessons on which Henry this was, it was worth it for the fight scenes alone.
This was my third year doing the Access Bus, and my first after a year away in France, but it’s still as much fun as it was the first time I gave up a week of my Easter holiday to talk to pupils. Coming so soon after my dissertation deadline, Access work managed once again to combine two really important things: working to raise aspirations of young people and simply having some good old-fashioned fun.
If you’re reading this and would like to know more about the links that Colleges have with different areas of the country, have a look here. Clare isn’t the only College to run an Access Bus, and all Colleges can organise school visits: I’m sure the SLOs would be delighted to hear from you!