Catz on tour: 2023 outreach roadshow

Monday 24 April 2023


St Catharine’s is proud to support a varied programme of outreach activities that enable us to attract the most talented students, regardless of background. Under the University of Cambridge’s Area Link Scheme, the College’s outreach team has particular responsibility for engaging schools in North Yorkshire, Suffolk and Rutland, plus two schools in the Cambridge area. This has enabled us to get to know these areas, build relationships with teachers and tailor activities to the needs of each location.

In addition to online activities, we also arrange face-to-face activities like visits to St Catharine’s that enable school groups to meet Student Ambassadors and get a flavour of College life. Travelling to St Catharine’s is more of a challenge for schools in North Yorkshire than other link areas, so we organised an ‘outreach roadshow’ in March 2023 to engage Year 10,11, and 12 students and bring a taste of Cambridge to them.

Representing St Catharine’s on the roadshow were:

  • Liza Zhabina, Schools Liaison & Outreach Officer
  • Thomas Williams, External Partnerships and Outreach Officer
  • Rachel Duke, a second-year Natural Sciences undergraduate who served as Access and Admissions Officer on the College’s Junior Combination Room (JCR) Committee.

The five-day trip was organised in partnership with Brasenose College, which is also linked with North Yorkshire as part of the University of Oxford’s equivalent scheme. Our two Colleges have collaborated for some time to enhance the support that we are able to provide schools in the area.

Thomas commented, “Through speaking about the collegiate system, student experience, and common myths and misconceptions, we hoped to encourage and inspire prospective students. Our conversations also stress that St Catharine’s is a welcoming home for all students, regardless of their background. Visiting schools in North Yorkshire demonstrates our commitment to widening participation and we hope many of those we met will continue to engage with the wide range of outreach opportunities we offer as they progress through their education.”

Day 1 (Monday 20 March)

The first stops on the roadshow were to Lady Lumley’s Sixth Form, Ryedale School, University Technical College Scarborough, Scarborough Sixth Form, and Caedmon College Whitby. Thomas explained how the group got to visit so many schools and colleges in one day:

“By working with Brasenose College, we can visit more schools, often splitting into two groups to run simultaneous visits. With staff or ambassadors from St Catharine’s and Brasenose in both groups, we can talk about the similarities and differences in Oxford and Cambridge whilst also covering key information for prospective students. Smaller groups also allow for more tailored discussions, ensuring students receive the information most relevant to them and their potential subject of study.”

Day 2 (Tuesday 21 March)

Day two began with a visit to Thirsk School, who were hosting groups from Outwood Academy Easingwold and Stokesley School. St Catharine’s representatives spoke to both Year 10s and 12s and hosted a Q&A session. Then, the group was back on the road with visits the same day to Richmond School, St Francis Xavier School, Ripon Grammar School, Northallerton School, and Bedale High School.

St Catharine’s takes care to tailor sessions according to the needs of each audience, with Thomas adding:

“Sessions with Year 10 and Year 11 students tend to focus on the benefits of going to university in general, before looking more specifically at Cambridge and Oxford. We also advise the students on choosing A Level subject, making sure they understand the impact this can have on what they are able to study at university. With Year 12 students, the focus is more on the unique nature of Oxford and Cambridge, both as collegiate universities but also in terms of the quality of teaching and resources available. We introduce students to the application process and give advice on how to best start preparing.”

For all age groups, a healthy portion of time is reserved for Q&A and more informal discussions with student ambassadors, allowing the students to get an authentic sense of life at the two universities, and the experiences of our ambassadors.

St Catharine's and Brasenose Colleges visit to South Craven School
Visit to South Craven School
St Catharine's and Brasenose Colleges visit to Richmond
Taking a break during a visit to Richmond

Day 3 (Wednesday 22 March)

On Wednesday morning, Liza went to South Craven school with Erin and Rachel , while Thomas and Ben (went to Skipton with the Brasenose representatives to do a join talk for students from Ermysted's and Skipton Girls' School.

Liza said, “We started off by doing a myth busting session for groups of younger years, asking students to tell us things they have heard about Oxford and Cambridge (reassuring them that they can be as mean as they like, and we have heard it all before). Many students hold common misconceptions about Oxford and Cambridge, believing people from their backgrounds have no place at either university.

“The presence of three northerners, none of whom went to private schools, reassures the students that this is not the case at all, despite what they may have heard. Indeed, one of the most valuable parts of the trip is taking current undergraduates back to their old secondary schools and sixth forms, showing current students the possibilities available to them. Many students are also shocked when we tell them that our state school intake is 70% at Cambridge University, and even higher at St Catharine's at 80%.”

In the afternoon, the group returned to West Yorkshire to visit Liza’s former school, Greenhead College. They met up with Dr Stuart Eves, Admissions Tutor at Selwyn College, and Joe Stanley, Northern Schools Liaison & Outreach Officer for Selwyn College who also works in the area. Together, they all delivered a combined talk to a huge number of Year 12 students during which Liza reminded the students that 6 years earlier she was sitting in the exact same hall listening to a similar presentation. They then split into smaller subject based groups to offer more tailored advice to students based on the course they were interested in studying at university.

Days 4 & 5 (Thursday 23 March, Friday 24 March)

Across the final two days, the roadshow visited seven more schools: Ilkley Grammar School, Harrogate Grammar School, St Aidan’s School, St John Fisher School, King James School, Tadcaster Grammar School, and Sherburn High School.

Thomas concludes, “It is a pleasure visiting North Yorkshire and speaking to so many engaged, ambitious and passionate students. As part of the provisions we offer to our Link Area schools, the Catz outreach team will return to North Yorkshire in September to run a series of subject-specific sessions, helping Year 13 students prepare for the upcoming admissions cycle. We look forward to returning in the autumn! This comes alongside an online series of webinars which run throughout the course of the year which is open to state school students across the UK.”