Oldham Sixth Form College has been recognised for its efforts in helping students access the most competitive universities with a new national award.

The dedication and innovation of the college and its partner schools won the Social Mobility Award at the annual Sixth Form College Association (SFCA) conference this June.

Oldham Sixth Form College was picked for the award for its groundbreaking Varsity Academy project - and comes as the third prize the college has received for its work on social mobility in recent years, following on from its awards from Educate North and upReach.

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The Varsity Academy project was launched in October 2022 and helps 160 high-achieving secondary school students in its 10 partner schools in the borough gain insight into higher-level study at the college and challenge their abilities.

The 10 Oldham schools that have joined the scheme are Co-op Academy Failsworth, The Hathershaw College, Oasis Academy Leesbrook, Oasis Academy Oldham, Newman RC College, The Oldham Academy North, The Radclyffe School, Royton and Crompton Academy, Saddleworth School and Waterhead Academy.

The Varsity programme sees the pupils split into two subgroups, maths and science and then English and humanities, where they then visit OSFC once per term in Year 10 and again in Year 11 to engage in academic seminars.

The seminars are accompanied by a termly lecture exploring further and higher education and allow the pupils to work collaboratively with their peers from other schools.

The goal of the project is to give youngsters a "sense of entitlement to whatever progression route they choose" and to demystify Higher Education while equipping them with the knowledge and skills to thrive in their studies.

It is the college’s belief that the earlier they start supporting students, the greater the positive impact they can achieve.

The college says feedback from students, schools and parents has been "fantastic" with the pupils enjoying being required to "think deeply about issues" as well as getting "a brilliant insight into university and my future".

Equally, school teachers were pleased by how the sessions "stretched pupils' knowledge and understanding", while one set of parents described the initiative as a "life-changing opportunity" for their son.

Dr Richard Lee, Assistant Principal at OSFC, and the architect of the Varsity Academy, is delighted with the recognition from the Sixth Form Colleges’ Association.

He said: "Social mobility is at the heart of everything OSFC aims to achieve.

"Our mission is to transform students’ lives through academic excellence and outstanding support, and the Varsity Academy is a vital aspect of our aspirations for students.

"The award also acknowledges the first-rate relationships we enjoy with our partner schools.

"Without their help and support the Varsity Academy would not be possible.

"And the most credit must go to the amazing students who have participated.

"They have engaged with complex ideas and pushed themselves beyond their comfort zones, with an open-mindedness that has been inspiring.

"We are looking forward to finding even more innovative ways of advancing social mobility with them in the future."

Glynn Potts MBE DL, Headteacher for Newman RC College, also said: "The varsity programme has been a ‘game changer’ in terms of collaboration and opportunity.

"It was cut through the current system of inter-school competition to instead focus on student success, ambition and collaboration.

"I can think of no other initiative across Oldham or beyond that offers such support, without cost, that has such impact and benefit to all.

"As a town, we know that our young people are no less talented than any other child in the land, but what they perhaps lack is opportunity and exposure.

"The Varsity programme affords all within it to have such benefits."

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