In his annual message to Congress in 1863, Abraham Lincoln famously observed: “the occasion is piled high with difficulty and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, we must think anew and act anew”. As we face the threat of the coronavirus pandemic, forcing schools to close and disrupting the education of our students, we have been adapting our roles as University Access Officers at The Access Project and acting anew so that we can continue to provide vital support to young people from the most disadvantaged backgrounds.

So how have we had to adapt to the occasion, seeing as all of us are now confined to our homes and working remotely for the foreseeable future? In the past couple of weeks UAOs have successfully transitioned more than 300 student/tutor pairings to our Bramble platform, where tutorials have resumed in an online capacity. Every day, UAOs will continue to transition more pairings to online tutoring, making sure that as many students as possible take up the valuable academic support whilst they continue their studies at home. 

Along with this, UAOs have been making sure to check in on all our students. With this year being especially significant for our year 13s, the majority of our time has been devoted to mentoring them as they conclude their final year of secondary education and embark on their new journey at university. Students have been expressing their worries about not sitting A levels in the summer and the potential impact that it will have on their university applications, not to mention the concerns of falling behind in their academic attainment while schools are closed. But we are here to guide them through this uncertain process by keeping them up to date on the latest developments in relation to UCAS offer deadlines, predicted grades, student finance and what to do now in order to prepare for university life. 

For the year 11s, it has been a challenge to stay motivated as they face the prospect of not sitting their GCSE exams, and understandably so. So again UAOs are thinking anew – we’re asking them what they intend to study in the future and trying to match them up with the right volunteer tutor. This way, year 11s gain a valuable foundation of knowledge and understanding before embarking on their A level studies, and year 13s gain an insight into the content that they will be studying at university. 

At the Access Project we understand, now more than ever, that this occasion is piled high with difficulty; students from poorer backgrounds will have limited access to additional activities and support at home, and time spent away from school will see our students potentially falling further behind their classmates (The Sutton Trust). Therefore, in order to combat this disparity and stop the widening gap in educational attainment, we’ve to adapt our role quickly to make sure that students get the vital remote provision needed to gain access to the UK’s top universities. Although this has posed many challenges, we as UAOs have channeled Lincoln’s message to think and act anew, so that we can continue to champion our students throughout these extraordinary times.