One of the most important lessons I have learnt, as I imagine many others have too from this pandemic, is the value of offering up our time to help others. Cher-ity Corner is a weekly column that highlights local Oxford charities that students can volunteer with and make a difference.

I spoke to Harry Twohig, President of Target Schools, the SU’s access and outreach body. We discussed opportunities that are on offer for both prospective and current students and lots about what they do. Find out how you can get involved and more about their amazing work!

What’s Target Schools?

“Target Schools is Oxford SU’s home of student-led access work, with the overall aim of widening participation and improving access to higher education (specifically to Oxford) for students from under-represented backgrounds.”

It was first established as a scheme of Oxford SU in 1982, with the Target Schools Annual Review a few years later noting that ‘non-application, not non-admission, was the problem to be addressed by the [Target Schools] committee.’ By 1990, the schemes student committee had begun producing student and teacher handbooks, which were in effect a slimmed down version of the Alternative Prospectus which still exists today – and by 1995 a programme of visits to targeted comprehensive schools had begun. From 2009, their shadowing day programme was introduced, which is currently the main form of delivery. This involves bringing prospective applicants to Oxford for a day and giving them the opportunity to shadow a current student.

Fun fact… Ed Miliband was once a member!

Harry Twohig says that Target Schools can be broadly defined in two projects:

“The major project is the renewal and annual relaunch of the Oxford SU Alternative Prospectus, which provides thousands of prospective applicants each year with the opportunity to gain an insight into what life at Oxford is like. We’ve recently collected over 150 responses from students across the University which will be used to reshape the site in preparation for our relaunch ahead of the next set of virtual open days in the summer. This is important to us as it allows prospective applicants to hear the authentic voice of students studying at the university, allowing for informed choices to be made.

“The shadowing day programme is our main undertaking in terms of programme delivery. In recent times, because of the pandemic which shall not be named, we’ve had to shift delivery online, condensing it into a one-hour online workshop. So far, we’ve reached over 250 prospective applicants with our workshops this academic year, which is something that we’re really proud of. As a result of the success of our digital work, we are now considering whether a hybrid model, with some online and some in-person delivery, could be possible in the future. Pre-pandemic, our shadowing days would have involved around thirty students from across the country using public transport to travel to Oxford, attend lectures, visit libraries, and attend in-person workshops at colleges. Our delivery model definitely wasn’t built with a pandemic in mind! Thankfully, though, we have been able to shift our shadowing day delivery online. We can’t quite provide the same personal experience as a 1-2-1 encounter, but a key aspect of our virtual shadowing day workshop is to give prospective applicants the opportunity to spend time working with current students in small groups, so that we maintain that interactive and personal element as much as possible.”


How can students get involved?

“The good news is that we’re always looking for people to come onboard and help us out! We recruit for committee members on a regular basis, with our largest intake being in the Michaelmas term of each academic year, so keep your eyes out for that.

“We also have some ad-hoc volunteering opportunities, particular around supporting with our shadowing days, both virtually and in person. To be eligible to get involved, all that students need to do is complete our short shadowing day training module which can be accessed here: Safeguarding Training (oxfordsu.org). We’ll then be in touch when the next opportunity to get involved arises!”

Why should you get involved?

“In many ways, our cause is still important for exactly the same reason that it was when we were founded back in 1982 – because far too many young people write Oxford off as a possibility. They see the city as this magical, enchanting place where they couldn’t possibly belong.

“Currently, two members of our committee and countless more of our volunteers are actually former Target Schools shadowing day participants themselves! This is something we’re really proud of – it’s an incredible reminder of the power of the work that we do. There is something really powerful about being in a (sadly virtual) room with students and staff who are drive to create change and make an impact.”

Want to get involved?


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