SCHOOL pupils across the country are nervously awaiting the results of their GCSEs on Thursday, following the release of the A-Level results last week, says Tara Prayag, Head of widening participation at Oxford University.

Here at the university, our colleges and departments now know which students holding an offer to study at Oxford have achieved the right grades to join us in October.

Many of those pupils had already visited Oxford and been won over by the city on an open day, and it is widely known that we work very hard to attract the best candidates from all backgroundsto apply to Oxford.

But it is less well known that we also do a lot of work with young people who might not even be thinking of university as an option.

I am head of the university’s widening participation team, which works with state school pupils aged nine to 16 (Year 5 to Year 11) in Oxfordshire, Milton Keynes and Buckinghamshire.

Our aims are to help young people understand what they could gain from further education and what type of study might suit them best; to inspire intellectual curiosity; and to enhance self- esteem, aspirations and hopes for the future.

For children whose parents have been to university, and whose school encourages them to apply to university, aiming high is often second nature.

But many children are from households where there is no family history of higher education and in this difficult time for the economy they might rule out continuing their studies after school in favour of getting a job.

Of course, university is not for everyone, but we aim to encourage all students to consider it as a serious option.

It’s about helping young people make informed decisions about their own futures.

Our Oxford Young Ambassadors (OYA) scheme targets Year 9 students with little or no family history of higher education and selects them to act as ‘higher education ambassadors’ in their schools and communities as a way of raising aspirations and attainment.

The programme includes visits to other universities and several overnight stays across the three years of the programme to give them a taste of university life.

When they began the programme, many of our OYAs were on course for Bs at GCSE.

When the results come out on Thursday, many of them are hoping to have exceeded those predicted grades.

Fingers crossed.

Also waiting for some of her GCSE results this week is Georgina Harriss, a Year 10 pupil at Carterton Community College.

Georgina, who has just completed a spell of work experience with the widening participation team, is in the second year of the OYA programme and recently returned from a trip to Liverpool University with the rest of the OYAs.

She said the scheme had given her a taste of university life and had inspired her to work hard at school in the hope of going on to sixth form and then university.

Georgina has found the revision tips picked up on the programme particularly useful.

We work with some really inspiring young people in Oxfordshire, particularly those on our COMPASS programme.

This targets students who have caring responsibilities for a family member at home.

Through the COMPASS programme we regularly meet Year 10 and Year 11 students to give them workshops and guidance on balancing caring responsibilities with school and study commitments, as well as advising them on post-16 options, including pathways to university (or equivalent) and possible careers.

We are sure readers of the Oxford Mail will join us in wishing our Oxford Young Ambassadors and COMPASS: Young Carers the very best of luck with their GCSE results.