COMMENT // Oxbridge successes from Medieval Languages to Veterinary Science
The start of any year is most typically associated with new year resolutions, the purchasing of seldom-used gym membership, and a commitment to healthy living. For those of us in education, this time is also associated with Oxbridge outcomes – when students find out whether they have been accepted into the UK’s two leading universities, which sit among the most prestigious global centres of higher education. At Hereford Cathedral School there has been much jubilation this year with another extremely impressive set of outcomes across the board, with double digit growth in the number of pupils being accepted year-on-year – which is a level of growth that we have now seen in four of the last five years at the school. One has to go back over a decade to find a higher number of successful Oxbridge applicants and further still to find a higher percentage of the cohort. What is also so pleasing is the variety of subjects in which that success has come, ranging from History to Economics, from Medieval and Modern Languages to Veterinary Science. I believe that this is testament to the breadth of interests that HCS students have and the calibre of support that they receive in preparing them for what is a gruelling and challenging application.
Successfully earning a place in such an intensively competitive and global process is worthy of celebration and it is appropriate for schools to have a culture where aspiration, ambition and achievement are celebrated. In our fortnightly Headmaster’s Assembly, we purposefully and intentionally celebrate pupil success – that doesn’t have to be academic excellence, of course. It could just as easily be exhibiting the values and behaviours which underpin our ethos such as leading an ill and lost hiker down the mountainside; it could be attempting something bold and courageous, even if the outcome was not the intended one. As a school, we believe in fostering ambition and providing the framework in which pupils succeed. The average GCSE grades of this year’s HCS Oxbridge successes was 8.6 (out of a maximum of 9) and is evidence that getting a place in one of these two universities does not just begin in the Sixth Form. It was Abraham Lincoln who remarked that if he had six hours to chop down a tree, then he would spend four hours sharpening the axe. It is also noteworthy that 100% of this year’s successful Oxbridge applicants have also been educated at Hereford Cathedral Junior School.
At HCS, preparation for success begins with fostering a love of learning and intellectual curiosity, which is an integral part of our Nursery, Junior School, Senior School and Sixth Form alike. Yet inevitably and appropriately, of course, it is in those final two years when pupils are most specifically prepared for their post-18 applications, be that PPE at Oxford, Computer Science at Imperial, English Literature at Exeter or a degree apprenticeship at JP Morgan or IBM. The nature of that preparation is both myriad and bespoke. It includes access to Unifrog – the leading online platform – which enables pupils to explore degree courses all over the world, to access the latest degree apprenticeships available, and to keep a detailed log of all the ways in which they are supplementing their application through super-curricular and extra-curricular activities. The HCS provision includes individual consultations and support from the Futures Department, it includes our Early Application Programme of extension and enrichment for Oxbridge applicants and those applying for Medicine, Veterinary Sciences and Dentistry. It also includes a group of staff whose dedication and commitment are tireless. One teacher marked eight practise papers for an Oxbridge aptitude test throughout the October half term alone. Applicants also receive countless mock interviews, the majority of which are with external specialists to replicate more closely the real experience and to normalise being outside of one’s comfort zone.
At HCS we are always looking at how we can improve and enhance the opportunities for our young people. We have recently been piloting some new VR software which enables pupils to practice their interview skills with instant evaluation and feedback, including the level of eye-contact that the candidate makes with the interviewers. Generative AI also enables limitless follow-up questions to facilitate the most lifelike of interviews to supplement the practice interviews with real people!
As I write this article, there has been no shortage of other activities and opportunities within the school to foster ambition, aspiration and achievement. In the past weeks alone, we have received a visit from the High Commissioner of Rwanda, the CCF have been addressed by the Deputy Chief of the Defence Staff, the Biomedical Society by five different medical doctors, while experts from the University of Worcester have run a thought-provoking enterprise day to help students approach global challenges from a multi-disciplinary perspective. This half term, our regular Academic Super Saturday focused on cryptography and the nature of secure communication in a world of adversarial behaviour.
In summary, our sector-leading provision for early applications, our conscientious and hard-working students and bespoke and individualised support is key to our Oxbridge success.
Dr Michael Gray, Headmaster
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