Behind the scenes at the IntoUniversity Centre in Oxford

IntoUniversity is an organisation which provides local learning centres inspiring schoolchildren to achieve. The programme of support and learning enables pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds to aspire to further and higher education. A centre was opened in Oxford in 2014 and is supported by Christ Church through a gift from an alumnus, and by the University.

Enthusiastic and full of energy, Sarah-Jane Kinley is Centre Leader at IntoUniversity’s new site, the Jubilee 77 Centre in Oxford’s Blackbird Leys. She is responsible for volunteers, many of whom come from the University, and also for three full-time staff who co-ordinate the three main strands of the centre’s work: Primary FOCUS, Secondary FOCUS, and mentoring.

The FOCUS programmes use structured workshops to engage students in concentrated learning, promote the development of key skills such as collaborative working, and inspire them to achieve their potential. On top of this, explains Sarah-Jane, ‘The central focus of our weekly programme is the after-school primary and secondary Academic Support sessions, which I plan and co-ordinate. I also look into recruitments and referrals of pupils to IntoUniversity. I don’t plan every workshop myself but I will oversee the process within the centre and ensure the standard is consistently high.’

She also keeps tabs on how the staff and their students are getting on, smoothing the way and providing plenty of positive reinforcement. She adds, ‘I might sit down next to volunteers on an ad hoc basis and give them support on how to deliver – how you talk to a student, how you teach them.’ She also writes reports and organises special projects, such as the recent refurbishment of part of the centre’s garden.

 Sarah-Jane Kinley at the Oxford IntoUniversity centre

Reading is something which Sarah-Jane views as particularly important: ‘I have a bugbear about children’s literacy levels, so we recruited two wonderful volunteers, who come once a week each to do one-on-one reading with some of the primary students; it boosts confidence, ability and literacy.’

Sarah-Jane originally came to the IntoUniversity organisation on a three-month internship – a route not uncommon amongst the staff. The newest intern at the Jubilee 77 Centre is Rebecca Shortt, just beginning an MPhil in politics at Nuffield College, who spent two days a week over the summer helping out with teaching resource preparation and delivery. Rebecca was inspired to volunteer by memories of her own school, which was in special measures when she was doing her GCSEs. She recalls: ‘I saw a lot of really smart people around me just fall by the wayside. They had potential but did not receive the academic support needed to make it to A-levels, university or the job they would have liked. Somewhere like this would really have helped them.’

Because of the financial support it receives through Christ Church in particular, IntoUniversity has a close relationship with the college and draws many of its volunteers from there (although applications are welcome from the University as a whole). Volunteering can be for one single occasion or as a more regular commitment; those interested in helping regularly will participate in a no-obligation training and selection session. Sarah-Jane reports: ‘We’ve been incredibly lucky in our first year, not just with the number but with the quality of volunteers. For 2015–16 we will need twice as many!’

The energy and commitment of the staff, Sarah-Jane in particular, are clear to see. The students relate well to them, visibly increasing in confidence as they interact with the adults and communicate their thoughts. A popular system of small prizes rewards endeavour, and ‘buddy trips’ to Christ Church allow the students to actually visit the dreaming spires which can seem so distant from the other side of the city.

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