An inspirational teacher and an illuminating state education often combine in supporting outstanding academic talent achieve a place at the University of Cambridge.
For Gonville & Caius College’s Gabriel Corrigan (Mathematics 2019), the teacher who inspired him was Jacqueline Jones at Shimna Integrated College. She suggested Gabriel consider Cambridge, and Maths, neither of which he had realised were realistic options.
“I actually didn’t even realise ‘normal’ people went to Cambridge until the final year of my GCSEs or first year of A-Level,” Gabriel says.
Mrs Jones also ensured Gabriel – and three others – could do an A-Level in Further Maths, which had not previously been offered at Shimna. She was enthusiastic and supportive of Gabriel, helping to prepare him for his Caius interview.
“I’ve got so much to thank her for,” Gabriel adds. “We all had confidence she was going to help us get the grades we wanted.
“Because of it being the first year of Further Maths, we ran Maths and Further Maths concurrently. We did the AS of both in first year, and A2 of both in second.
“However, almost everyone seems to do the normal maths in one year, and for one of the interviews you had to choose something that was in our A2 Further Maths or A2 Maths. I hadn’t seen either of these.
“She sat down and taught me all of the relevant A2 Maths in two days and just dedicated herself to that. Purely thanks to that I was able to get through that interview.”
Gabriel with Mrs Jones, left, and a view of Shimna Integrated College
The majority of schools in Northern Ireland remain separated on religious grounds, but Gabriel attended Shimna Integrated College in Newcastle, County Down. The school is all ability, not a grammar school, and was founded by parents in order to provide a school for their children which was neither Protestant nor Catholic.
Religious education had a more global outlook at Shimna, and the divide which remains present throughout Northern Ireland was also less of an issue.
Gabriel adds: “I absolutely loved it. It really meant a lot to me to be in my hometown – it’s only a five-minute walk from my house – and it was a conscious decision of my parents to go to an integrated school.
“The ethos of acceptance and having the conversations in a sensible way is important, not just ignoring it. You can’t just assume anything about someone.
“Integrated education in Northern Ireland is something I care about a lot. It’s underappreciated and poorly recognised.”
As he was considering Cambridge, Gabriel visited for an access event at Corpus Christi – the link area college for Northern Ireland.
He says: “I went to as many colleges as I could and when I came into Caius I thought ‘wow’. I liked that it was big year groups and would have more Maths students in my year – eight to 10. It’s central, and I like the dining requirements. You’re forced to socialise, and it definitely worked in first year. I know more people because I’ve sat beside them in dinner.”
Gabriel is a Caius access ambassador and immersed in College and University life. He plays piano and saxophone and is President of Caius Big Band this year. He is also Caius’ co-tennis captain while also playing for the University.
And he has Mrs Jones to thank for making him aware that Cambridge was an option, and facilitating his journey there.