Oxford Scholastica Academy summer school
Does your teen hate sporty summer camps, want some independent advice on A-Levels/Degrees, or just need a little pizzazz for their UCAS form? Check out these academic summer schools at Oxford University colleges...
This is a summer school, but before you picture your child singing round the campfire, this is a very different animal. Oxford Scholastica Academy (OSA) has been running since 2013 and offers academic summer courses for 12-18-year-olds IN OXFORD UNIVERSITY COLLEGES with the emphasis on university style teaching with assignments, independent study and tutorial-style small group discussions.
So, rather than a crammer, it’s actually about helping kids choose GCSE, A-Level or Degree courses, get ahead with applications and make up their minds about future careers. For those of us fobbed off by disinterested careers advisors at schools, this is frankly So. Flippin. Useful.
Students stay overnight in undergraduate accommodation belonging to St Peter’s and Corpus Christi colleges and lessons are held in university faculty buildings. It’s a university experience but with supervision (sorry big kids, no drinking games!)
There are three rotations of two-week courses throughout the summer with a maximum of 120 on each, with courses split by age group – 12-14 and 15-18 years old. Currently around 80% of kids are international students, though the proportion of UK-based kids is growing as the trend for summer school grows.
Maximum class size is 15 but most groups have six to eight students – no dozing at the back then… Sessions are led by a mix of lecturers, former or current teachers, mature students studying for masters and doctorates, and very occasionally, third and fourth-year undergraduates. Before you balk at the thought of your 22-year-old self educating the next generation of bright young things, the tutors have gone through a rigorous application process, training and safeguarding course, DBS check and many use it as a leg-up into teaching as a profession.
For kids who don’t want to commit to a two-week residential, there’s a host of online courses, internships and conferences. Launched as a reaction to COVID, the online offering has been such a success that it’s been continued and, indeed, enlarged (see virtual learning, below).
Students stay in single undergraduate rooms with ensuite bathrooms (yes, you read that right!). The accommodation is spread across three buildings owned by St Peter’s and Corpus Christi colleges. Boys and girls tend to be separated as are the two age groups. Supervisors also stay on site. Rooms are lockable and students have their own key to the accommodation building. Pastoral care is a big deal, as you’d imagine with 12-18 year olds staying away from home, and there are matrons for those who need a matriarchal comfort blanket, as well as the supervisors who stay overnight.
Breakfast and dinner are provided on site and students are free to grab their own lunch in town – a chance to practice that ever-so-studenty past-time of hanging out in cafés.
Teaching happens in various parts of the university, so kids get a real taste of the student experience, having tutorials in faculties, as well as having access to places like the Said School of Business and the John Radcliffe Hospital.
The morning is taken up by classes and independent study (there WILL be a report at the end!) while there is an activity every afternoon and evening to get them away from the desk and screen. The students I spoke to said they never felt bored or had a problem with the 11pm lights out rule because they’re usually pooped from a busy day.
Afternoon activities include anything from punting to a football tournament or a scavenger hunt to get acquainted with Oxford. There are also ice breaker activities at the start to get kids engaging with one another, along with visits to Blenheim Palace or Windsor Castle, and a series of ‘Masterclasses’. This is more UCAS statement/interview-winning fodder such as decision-making, psychology debates, a social impact conference with charity leaders, and university and job application technique.
In the evenings, activities include outdoor theatre, a ceilidh, BBQ, film night, debating at the Oxford Union and a ball.
Students aged 12-14 can choose from courses in Business, Medicine and Technology, while 15-18 year olds have a choice of Business & Enterprise; Computer Science & Coding; Creative Writing; Debate & Public Speaking; Engineering; International Relations, Politics & Leadership; Law; Medicine and Psychology & Neuroscience. (Alongside the summer school, Oxford Scholastica also run online internships in Psychology & Neuroscience, Economics & Finance, Engineering, and Politics & International Relations.)
This is a chance to test out a career path or degree subject and have experiences in that arena. Students come away with a fresh perspective on subjects, new skills like debating or critical discussion, and less tangible benefits such as boosted confidence. By all accounts, it’s the opportunity to have something to differentiate them when it comes to interviews and UCAS that the kids I spoke to value most. While for younger ones, it’s the chance to branch out beyond the exam-focused curriculum and learn in a more mature way.
All of the students on the summer course leave with a report outlining the areas they have studied, evaluating their work and any recommendations.
OSA was launched by Jamie and Sophie Dear who studied at Oxford University and oversee various initiatives around education and mentoring in addition to the summer school. They are clearly passionate about levelling the playing field and nurturing talent. Their mission is to give students the edge to help them succeed, find their purpose and make a difference in the world.
The three-fold online offering is: virtual internships, conferences and online courses.
The internships offer experience in law and medicine that can be a challenge to find for kids without family connections. The internships see students involved in genuine academic research so it’s practical rather than theoretical, and it is UCAS gold dust.
The subject specific conferences take place in the autumn and offer a delve into big developments in the chosen field – another talking point for interviews or applications.
The online courses cover the same age categories and similar age ranges to the summer schools. They last one or two weeks and include two hours online with a tutor and class of up to ten other students per day, with two hours of independent or group work to complete per day.
The goal of OSA is to further the academic ambitions of students – and their parents – but it’s not a simple crammer set up. There is a big emphasis on social enterprise and the ways students can give back. There’s also a genuine desire to give kids the time and space to explore subjects and careers that are well beyond the remit of their own schools or families.
The OSA courses tend to suit a certain kind of kid – high achiever with a good work ethic, though the kids I spoke to were not all go-getting super geeks. For those considering medicine and law or those who just want help deciding on A-Levels, or to whom a sporty summer camp sounds like absolute hell, this is a winner.
Definitely an investment in your kids! It’s £4,995 for a two-week residential and £9,690 for the four-weeker – this includes two meals a day, accommodation and activities.
The online courses start at a less pricey £595 for one week or £995 for two. Then the conferences cost from £95 a day and online internships from £995 for four days over four weeks.
WORD ON THE GROUND
In a world where getting into good universities is getting tougher, these courses give a winning addition to a personal statement or something to elaborate on over an interview. Students on the Experience Medicine course will visit the John Radcliffe Hospital and take a patient’s medical history – that’s really going to set them apart come interview time.
The reviews and platitudes on the site are impressive as are the profiles on some of its stellar alumni. There are plenty of students who come back for courses in subsequent years and whose siblings also attend, so repeat bookings must be a good sign.
The international diversity is a big boon for students, who will have a global address book, and lived along side kids from a variety of different cultures, by the end of their course. They’re notching up life experience as well as brain cells.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Kids who are capable of independent study and organisation. Matrons and supervisors will chivvy kids along to get them out of bed, but by and large you need to be in the right place at the right time, and capable of knuckling down to work without a parent breathing down your neck.
Not for: Very shy children (although the icebreakers are designed to help these kids come out of their shell), or kids who struggle academically and need a lot of carrot and/or stick. Also not suited to bubble-wrap parents who might find the independence given to their 12-year-old little darling somewhat daunting.
Dare to disagree? Add you comments below or check out more details for yourself at the very informative and clear website for Oxford Scholastica Academy