What a year 2021 has been at The Access Project! There have been extremely trying times, especially for the disadvantaged young people we work with, who were locked down, trying to keep up with their studies. And there have been amazing times, where we’ve seen cheers of joy as our students opened their A level results and found out that they’re off to their preferred universities.


Here’s a summary of the past year… 


At the very start of the year, lockdown restrictions were reintroduced and schools had to shut their doors to most of their students due to spikes in COVID-19 infections. As a result, we were forced to move our mentoring support online.

We had already successfully moved all tuition online in immediate response to the pandemic – and we made the decision to continue this for the foreseeable future.

We have been able to weather the disruptions of the pandemic in large part thanks to the commitment of our incredible staff – who have worked tirelessly to ensure that the disadvantaged young people we work with can continue to benefit from our programme.

One young person, Eden, said:
“The pandemic has undoubtedly affected my usual studying habits since I took it as an opportunity to put my revision on hold. Once schools and colleges opened again, I found it difficult to get back to studying consistently and efficiently which therefore was quite a challenge. In addition to that, I hadn’t been able to gain the required work experience and extra-curriculars necessary for the university course I’d like to study. Despite that, I had the initiative to search online and make the most of the opportunities available at the time.”


In February we partnered with SOAS University of London. This four-year partnership with Wood Green Academy in Wednesbury in the West Midlands will help students hoping to go to top universities. 

James Topham, Headteacher at Wood Green Academy, said:

“It will help raise the academic expectations of our students and enable them to see a successful pathway from the school to university.”


A colourful illustration of the UK with a pin dropping in West Yorkshire
In March we expanded into a brand new region: West Yorkshire! We started working in two schools – Dixons Allerton Academy and Dixons Cottingley Academy. Our programme of work is well underway there now.
Declan, one of our students at Dixons Cottingley, said:
“I decided to join The Access Project because of the gaps in learning I have had during the lockdowns. It’s a great opportunity to fill in the gaps, and it’s also free and helps you get into university!”


We established our partnership with Imperial College London in April. Students from Ormiston Forge Academy in Cradley Heath in the West Midlands will be supported to improve their grades, make successful applications and transition to leading universities through this collaboration.

Dr Annalisa Alexander, Head of Outreach and Widening Participation at Imperial College London, said:

“Being able to provide that critical front-line support in school is the best way to ensure a pupil can succeed, regardless of their background or family situation and The Access Project provides just this. Students who have been part of the programme have achieved great things and we are looking forward to being part of that journey.”


Despite the disruption that the pandemic was having to young people’s education at the time, we were determined to make sure our students could visit prospective universities – albeit virtually.

We delivered a week of online university trips for more than

Year 12 students - who “visited” UCL, the University of Leeds and the University of Sussex.


In the first week of June it was Volunteers Week. Our charity is dependent on the energy and efforts of thousands of volunteers who dedicate an hour each week to help disadvantaged young people through tuition. Our Volunteering team pulled together this thank you message this year – and every word is as true today as it was back then!


In July we explored new ways of working to provide our students with the best tutoring service possible. 

Our community of dedicated volunteers provide thousands of hours of support for our students every year and are an integral part of our organisation. As we grow – and particularly once we have doubled our current size – our research has shown us that we will no longer be able to source enough volunteers for each of our students to be tutored one-to-one.  

We therefore started exploring whether we could find a way to address this: by providing even more intensive tuition at A level for small groups of students in Years 12 and 13.

Image of a young person raising their hand to ask a question while on a trip to Oxford University
Due to its nature, this approach to tuition requires a higher level of preparation and planning, reporting, subject knowledge and teaching experience. Therefore we began testing out whether recruiting paid, professional tutors and teachers to deliver this work via a small scale pilot may be the solution.

Early feedback on group tutorials has found that the young people we work with are responding well to them. Students agreed that the tutorials were helping them to make progress and also they have enjoyed participating in them.

One young person said:

I feel like I’ve learned a lot from them… Our tutor has made it so that we’re all able to access the work and still gain knowledge.”

We also launched our new volunteer portal. This has been instrumental in bringing together volunteers and allowing collaboration in a way we have never seen before! 


August is always an extremely busy month for us as it’s A level and GCSE results days. This year they were both in one week!

We were absolutely inundated with good news stories about our students beating the odds to secure places at top universities. That included students like Jakaria who got a remarkable five A*s and is now studying Medicine at UCL. And Chriso, who is studying Law at King’s College London.


of our students secured places at top universities in 2021.

From 23 to 30 August, it was Transition Week. This was a series of online webinars for young people – helping to support them to successfully adjust to life at university. It also included a session from one of our new partners upReach

Nana, who is now at Cambridge University, attended some of these webinars. She said:

“The Access Project doesn’t just end after school – their support goes on into university and I think that’s a really good thing.”


September was our awards season! We celebrated the achievements of our incredible young people through our student awards. This included the Professor David Farnham Tutorial Award – which celebrated students who attended 100% of their tutorials throughout the year.

The prize is named after Professor David Farnham, who was dedicated to helping young people realise their goals in life. In 2019 Professor Farnham’s family made a generous donation to The Access Project that helped us grow into more schools and adapt our programme to respond to the pandemic.

Hazera was one of the winners of the prize. Her University Access Officer said:

“Hazera was a star on The Access Project throughout her time at Hornsey, attending 45 tutorials with her tutor James last year. She achieved a 7 in GCSE Maths and made great strides throughout the year, coping well with the move online.”

The Access Project student Hazera with UAO Adam
We also had some amazing funding news – with Salesforce awarding us over £360,000 to support disadvantaged young people in London to secure places at top universities.


In October we were approved as a provider for the government’s National Tutoring Programme for the second year in a row. This means that we will be able to offer Key Stage 4 tuition to approximately 960 students in up to 33 schools across the country.
National Tutoring Programme
We also worked with some of our students to celebrate Black History Month. We spoke with Naima and alumna Betty. The theme of this year’s Black History Month was Proud To Be and we asked Betty what she is proud to be. “I’m proud to be enjoying my time at university,” she told us. She lives with friends and she said that when she told them that university was “decent” they were shocked. “They said that I was the first person that has ever said that,” she laughs. “I guess I have a positive outlook on university.”

Student Ceydanur (15) was selected as the winner of the Cut Short writing competition by author and former The Access Project mentor Ciaran Thapar. This competition, launched to celebrate the publication of Cut Short by Ciaran, asked students to share what they would do if they ruled the world.

The competition was judged by both Ciaran and his Penguin editors. Speaking about judging all the talent, Ciaran said: “Reading these filled me with optimism about the next generation and what they can achieve.”

You can read Ceydanur’s short story here.

Cut Short writing competition winner Ceydanur


We announced our brand new partnership with The Queen’s College at the University of Oxford. 

Through this partnership we will extend into four schools in Cumbria and Lancashire from September 2022, so that students in these schools can beat the odds to secure places at leading universities.

We also welcomed our new Chair, Andrew Johnson, to the organisation. Andrew has enjoyed a successful industrial career as both a business leader and investor. He is a founding Partner at Beaumont Capital, investing in early stage high growth marketing technology and data businesses.


We had some really exciting news that 45 of our students have been invited to interview for places at Oxbridge.
To prepare our students, our amazing University Access Officer Charlotte, who is based at Central Foundation Girls’ School, recorded this video:
So far this academic year (beginning in September) we have delivered

hours of tuition to our volunteers

That’s a huge achievement that we have to credit our incredible volunteers for. You are all making an enormous difference and supporting disadvantaged young people to beat the odds to secure places at top universities.

The year ended as it began, with more COVID-19 related news. With the spread of the Omicron variant, the government called on people to work from home when they are able to. You can see how we are responding to this latest COVID-19 guidance here.

To all our amazing students, volunteers, partners and staff we just want to say an enormous thank you. 2021 has been a challenging year but we managed to weather it. Here’s to a brilliant 2022!