Derby Scholars

Derby Scholars

Derby Scholars is a collaborative outreach programme between the University of Derby and Corpus Christi College, Oxford, to support less-advantaged high-attaining students from Derby City to develop the knowledge, understanding and skills, to successfully apply for highly competitive universities and courses.  

2021/22 marked the third year of the programme, with Murray Edwards College, Cambridge, joining as a junior partner to support some of the activities.  

The city of Derby is an area categorised by entrenched social immobility, with GCSE attainment well below the national average and low HE progression (Social Mobility Commission, 2017). It became one of the first Opportunity Areas in 2017.   

Progression to Oxbridge is acutely poor and we know, both from application data and anecdotally from teachers, there are very able pupils in the city who either make unsuccessful applications to Oxbridge, choose not to take up offers they are made, or should be considering Oxbridge but do not.   

Therefore, two programmes – for Year 9 and Year 12 – were designed with these three aims:  


All state-funded secondary schools and mainstream FE providers in Derby city are invited to nominate Year 9 and Year 12 students to participate in the scheme.  

Students are required to meet at least one widening participation criterion and, for Year 9, are predicted to achieve grade 7 and above in all their GCSEs, and for Year 12, are predicted to achieve at least AAB in their A levels. 


Table 1: Number of participants in Derby Scholars by year group and academic year. 

Year 9  Year 12 Total by academic year 
Cohort 1 (2019/2020) 75 28 103

Cohort 2 (2020/2021)

32 21 53
Cohort 3 (2021/2022) 83 54 137
Total by year group 190 103 293

Socio-economic and demographic data

Table 2: The socio-economic and demographic breakdown of cohort 3 participants. 

Targeting summary Percentage in the target group
Most deprived (IMD dataset)  64%  
Least likely to progress (POLAR4 dataset)  62%  
Free School Meals eligibility   15%  
Gender- Male   39%  
Declared Disability   4%  
Minority ethnic group  64%  

Although males only make up 39% of 2021-22 participants this is a significant increase from 2020/21 participants (15%). Males are underrepresented within undergraduate studies nationally and in undergraduate studies at Oxford. 

Programme activity

Tables 6 and 7 indicate the Year 12 and Year 9 programme activities. 2021/22 marked the first year that visits to Oxford and Cambridge could be embedded, alongside a schedule of online and on-campus activities. Previously visits could not take place because of lockdown restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Year 12 activities

Table 3: 2021/22 programme activities for Year 12 Derby Scholars.

Year 12 activity 


12 Study Group sessions 

Academic Skills Day 

Masterclass subject sessions

Visit to Cambridge 

Visit to Oxford 

Year 9 activities

Table 4: 2021/22 programme activity for Year 9 Derby Scholars. 

Year 9 activity 


University of Derby Experience Day 

Visit to Oxford 

Academic Skills Day 


Evaluation data was collected using a mixed methods approach in line with the Widening Access evaluation framework and includes: 

The learners’ progression to HE will also be tracked.   

Data regarding the progression of the 2019/20 cohort indicates that (although numbers are small): 

Access to data from the University of Cambridge, and for application and enrolment data for 2021 has been challenging but as our partnership strengthens, this aspect will become embedded in the programme’s annual operations.  

From the endline survey – completed by the cohort in the last semester of their Year 13 studies – we can see that there were positive changes to attitudes with a move from students largely disagreeing with the statements at the start of the project, gravitating towards agreeing at the end of the project.  

Unfortunately, the response rate for the endline survey was only 29% for Cohort 1 and 24% for Cohort 2 so engagement is an issue that needs addressing. Overall, this data tells us that there were positive changes in attitudes to Oxbridge and whether they felt they could apply, but that the students needed more support in understanding how to submit a good application and undertake a good interview. The poor response rate tells us that sustained engagement throughout Year 13 is needed, and so this has now been implemented. 

Individual event evaluation has been very positive from teachers and students alike, indicating the programme is enjoyable and has an impact on attitudes to learning and Oxbridge. For example, 97% of survey respondents rated the Year 9 Oxford field trip ‘good’ or ‘excellent’. Comments about what they liked include: 

Overall, evidence shows the Derby Scholars programme has provided learners with a positive experience. This is clearly indicated in their feedback from the sessions they took part in and the positive attitudinal changes around their academic skills and in making an application to Oxbridge. Data from Cohort 1 suggests a positive change in the number of, and offer rate of, applications, but only long-term data of further cohorts will support this. Longer-term evaluation of Year 9 cohorts is ongoing to assess the impact of the programme on younger participants and whilst outcomes will not be known for some time early indicators are that participation is having a positive impact. 


Social Mobility Commission (2017) State of the Nation 2017: Social Mobility in Great Britain [Accessed 01/10/2019]