Oxford University Vice-Chancellor honours Sandwell teacher with award

Local state school teacher Vanwy Arif who worked with Sandwell Local Authority will be honoured as an ‘inspirational teacher’ at an event by Oxford University.

Her award comes as part of a scheme designed to recognise and show appreciation for inspirational teachers from state schools and colleges.

On Friday 20 April the teachers will be honoured by Oxford University’s Vice-Chancellor at an event in Jesus College. The awards will recognise their efforts supporting pupils who were successful in getting places at Oxford. Mrs Arif will be one of seven winners honoured with a University of Oxford Inspirational Teachers Award, thanks to a nomination by first-year Oxford student Isra Hale.

Oxford’s Vice-Chancellor, Professor Andrew Hamilton, will be presenting the awards, and said: ‘There is a huge amount of hard work and dedication involved in securing a place at Oxford, and teachers play a crucial role in supporting and raising the aspirations of the most capable students year on year throughout their careers. I hope this award will send the message that students and universities recognise how valuable the role of a supportive teacher can be.’

Mike Nicholson, Director of Undergraduate Admissions at Oxford, said: ‘We started the Inspirational Teachers Awards last year as a way of recognising the importance of school or college teachers as playing an important role in encouraging bright students to inspire students to realise their potential and make a successful application to Oxford, even if they might not have initially believed they were Oxford material.

‘Most of the students who submitted nominations this year were the only ones at their school with the academic ability to apply to Oxford, and might not have even considered applying. This award particularly recognises those teachers who have dedicated their time and energy to helping student applicants persevere in their ambitions, no matter what.

‘This year’s winning teachers were those whose passion and commitment to their students had a wide impact. These teachers inspired students in their successful applications to Oxford, but also clearly helped raise the aspirations of others, and did their best to encourage all their students to be the best they could be.’

The new award scheme recognises the crucial role teachers and careers advisors play in encouraging talented students in their schools or colleges. A selection of current first-year Oxford undergraduates were asked to nominate teachers or careers advisors for the award, asking them to nominate teachers who inspired them to apply to Oxford, fostered their passion for a particular subject or supported them through the application process. The students were all from selected UK state schools or colleges with a limited history and tradition of sending students to Oxford.

Isra, a former Wood Green Academy student who is now studying Medicine at St Anne’s College, said in her nomination: ‘At school I was told I had very little chance of getting into medicine, let alone medicine at Oxford. And the Sandwell borough, where I went to school hadn’t had anyone get into Oxbridge for over 15 years.

‘Vanwy worked for the council on a project she’d set up called “Sandwell Stars,” which aimed to get as many student as possible into university. She encouraged me to apply and organised trips to Oxford for me so I could be inspired by the university itself. She also managed to get the council to provide me with money for books at around the time I was applying to medicine, so I was up to date and fully prepared for interview.

‘She honestly was the only reason I felt I may have had a chance of a place at Oxford. Otherwise I would have completely overlooked Oxford and wouldn’t be here today, at an amazing college studying at the best medical school in the world.’

Of winning her award, Mrs Arif said, ‘I work with Sandwell local authority on behalf of schools in the region. I run a programme on behalf of schools for able learners who have the ability to apply to Oxford but because of socio-economic and cultural factors, would never have considered applying to the University. Our first job is to de-bunk the myths about Oxford and to provide learners and teachers with factual information about the University, what it has to offer and how to apply.

‘A key aspect to our work is helping learners to meet similar students from other schools – this enables them to network but more importantly, reduces the sense of isolation that able learners often have in communities which traditionally have thought that Oxford was not for them. Meeting with other learners who aspire to the very best encourages learners to be less hesitant about wanting to do well and expressing this wish in the form of an actual application to Oxford.

‘Isra was in our first cohort and we were delighted by her determination and hard work. The fact that she gained a place at Oxford was instrumental in raising the expectations of teachers and learners in all of our local schools, many of whom tended to think that going to Oxford was not possible for them. Teachers and learners now look at Isra’s success and dare to apply and prepare, undertaking additional work in their own time and knowing that they have every chance of success.’

Applications to Oxford from the state sector have risen by 73% in 10 years (in contrast to a rise of 31%% from the independent sector). For 2011 entry, of the UK students that applied, 57.7% of those accepted for study at Oxford were from state school students.

The University through its outreach work reaches 78% of schools across the country with post-16 provision – virtually all schools that field candidates capable of making a competitive application to Oxford. The University also has a major focus on working with teachers, including a series of regional teachers’ conferences each year, a one-day event for Oxford’s own PGCE programme, and working with Teach First participants.