Part of our job as Geography teachers is always about raising aspirations of our students – whether that’s in the completion of an individual task, discussion or exercise, the grades that they can achieve, or their eventual destinations that they can move towards.
We do this all the time by:
- Having high standards of Geography – always encouraging people to think deeply and explore more perspectives.
- Extended and enriched ‘diet’ of Geography – trips, visits, competitions, reading, modelling a wider and deeper engagement with the subject at all levels.
- Modelling interest and passion for our subject, and encouraging them to share the same excitement about their understanding of the world
- Showing our own journey, and being open about our experiences that made us Geographers, or helped us. For some, it’s about talking about specific moments, decisions, or travel experiences – for others, it’s about university experiences.
- Connecting further to our friends and peers who have studied Geography, and gone in to careers that aren’t “being a Geography teacher”
These help students to understand that ‘Geography is worth studying’ and that it’s a valid and approachable option for them. Hopefully, it’s part of what we’re all doing in our classrooms right from Year 7 onwards – and this “rich diet” narrative will be really important for the creation of high quality Geography students over their curriculum experience. You simply can’t do it all in Sixth Form.
If you are specifically looking to raise aspirations towards Oxbridge, then it’s worth considering:
- Access and outreach visits from Oxbridge tutors and admissions teams. Most Colleges have specific parts of the country that they’re responsible for, and specific connections. If you can get multiple schools together, then it’s worth them coming to you.
- Access and outreach visits to Oxbridge are really valuable in providing an insight in to the people and places – they can be complex to organise, and support from the outreach teams is invaluable. It’s normally worth having a multiple-subject approach – for your school, or for groups of schools, rather than trying to make it subject-specific. They can be hugely helpful in allowing students in Y12 to make decisions about picking Colleges, or deciding between universities, for instance.
- However, it’s often worth considering this in Year 10/Year 11 for students – the motivational push for GCSE grades, or in helping them to select their A Level subjects can be really valuable. And, as we said before, it’s sometimes worth having the idea planted before reaching Sixth Form.
If you can, getting former students who’ve had success in their interview or application process is a really valuable connection between “the students” and “people like me” getting success and making it real.
The other component of this is the “have you considered?” kind of conversation – with talented students who haven’t potentially considered themselves as Oxbridge candidates, and encouraging them to think about it or look at it. I know this was my own experience – Mr Phipps and Mr Russell as gentle guide encouraging me to think of these options. Often, this is a combination of confidence building – students with excellent GCSE profiles and likely A*/A at A Level, having a chance to think about what and where they might be able to study.
There’s a difficult balance to strike between raising aspirations and putting pressure on students. Some people will find the support welcome – and others might resist it. Like any other Sixth Form experience, the relationship and understanding your students (and their context, their parents, their motivation/aspiration) is critical.
So, assuming a rich diet of thinking has taken place through the Geography curriculum, what kind of timescale are we talking about? Let’s have a look.