In January Milly Ayers tweeted: “As of October 2021, there will officially be a showman traveller studying Classics at St John’s in Oxford. I GOT IN!”
Ayers, 18, who is related to the founder of Billy Smart’s circus, will be only the third student from a traveling family to be offered a place at the university. Her story is all the more remarkable because she left school at 13 and did her GCSEs on her own, scoring “7, 6, 5, 4, 4, 4, 3”, which she admitted was “not amazing by Oxford standards”.
“The thing is, I did feel like a bit of an underdog: the showman traveler from a working-class background … suddenly trying to get into the best university in the world, to study one of the poshest subjects without the advantage of a private school education (no Latin or Greek for me!),” she said. Despite gaps in her schooling, her passion for classics and her original thinking convinced tutors at her interview. She is studying Latin with a Duolingo course and plans to go to a summer school in Greek before going up to Oxford in autumn.
She was helped by Zero Gravity, an organization founded by Joe Seddon, an Oxford graduate from a single-parent family in West Yorkshire, which links candidates from state schools with students at top universities for advice and mentoring. Seddon matched Ayers with a PhD student at Cambridge, Elsie Linley, who coached her over video calls for the language aptitude test given to candidates who have not studied Latin or Greek.
This year Zero Gravity helped a record 151 students from unconventional and poor backgrounds get Oxbridge places — more than “Eton, Harrow and St Paul’s put together”, said Seddon. “And unlike them we don’t charge students a penny.”
State school intake has gone up from 62.3 percent to 70 percent at Cambridge and 55.4 percent to 68.7 percent at Oxford since 2015. But students who are the first in their family to go are still a tiny proportion.
Ayers’s branch of the family has worked in fairgrounds for hundreds of years. At the age of three, she sat by a machine with a money pocket strapped round her to collect players’ £1 coins. Brought up in a caravan and then a mobile home, she lives in Chertsey, Surrey, in a house. She said: “I have experienced racism. In my town recently we had a sign saying ‘No travelers’. There is the usual name-calling and a lot of assumptions. I’m clear — we pay taxes; we don’t leave rubbish behind us.”
She has wanted to study at Oxford since her father, who left school at 11, gave her a jumper that said, “I love Oxford University” when she was a child. “As a kid, Oxford always seemed like a mythical place where only the smartest could go. It was magical, like Hogwarts.
“Perhaps while I am there I can show people that showmen and travelers in general aren’t these stupid Neanderthals like the stereotypes suggest. My success is a win for the entire fairground community, and if any good comes out of that, I’ll be over the moon.”
A nine-year-old boy from St. Petersburg will have his whimsical mermaid-dog illustration brought to life as a plush toy by the Swedish furniture giant Ikea. Savva’s vivid drawing—a blue floppy-eared dog wearing a purple cowboy hat and finished with a fulgent orange mermaid’s tail—was one of 66,000 submissions to Ikea’s annual Soft Toy Drawing Competition. Children from all over the world sent in their artwork with the hope of having it selected and then transformed into a limited-edition plush toy and sold at Ikea outlets everywhere.
“I love to draw and often think up different stories. So I came up with the idea of such an unusual dog and decided to send it to the competition,” Savva explained to a local Russian news outlet. He also went on to describe how he hoped the fluffy character would be a source of positivity and help both people and animals.
Four other designs were selected from the competition. In addition to the mermaid dog, a pair of sandwich friends designed by Audrey from Canada, a cat by Liepa from Lithuania, scrambled eggs by Zosia from Poland, and a bird by Nick from the U.S. will also become a part of Ikea’s Sagoskatt collection, which goes on sale this fall.
One hundred percent of the proceeds from the toys’ sales in Russia will go toward local initiatives that promote children’s right to play, Ikea said.