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Discovering routes into STEM - and galaxies far, far away

Discovering routes into STEM - and galaxies far, far away 

Over seven days of cross-curricular workshops at Woodhorn Museum, Newcastle University and The Sill at Northumberland National Park, SEN, PP and EAL pupils from Year 6 at Bothal Primary School  in Ashington, Northumberland, created a space-themed performance piece with acclaimed composer Andy Ingamells. 

Through visits to a range of workplaces and a universities, the Northumberland Space Programme not only enabled children to learn about space and galaxies, and the history and geology of Ashington and Northumberland, but it also helped them to develop employability skills such as resilience, team working, problem-solving and communication.

During music, history and science workshops at Woodhorn Museum, pupils uncovered a potted history of Northumberland, from the Big Bang to the present day. They learnt how the labour market in the region has changed, from being primarily a mining area to becoming a significant player in the North East STEM sector.

Pupils were given an opportunity to reflect on their own thoughts, experiences, dreams and aspirations in relation to where they come from and how they envisage their future careers. 

A visit to The Sill at Northumberland National Park gave pupils a hands-on experience of the great outdoors, utilising the building’s purpose built ‘living’ roof and investigating the park’s special ‘Protected Dark Sky’ status.

At Newcastle University the group visited the School of Maths and Statistics and took part in experiments with astrophysicists based in the department, including controlled experiments with liquid nitrogen, investigations with infrared cameras, and examinations of meteorites and moon rock fragments. Pupils also met PhD students to find out about their routes into further and higher education and their career aspirations.

Increased confidence, teamwork and resilience

At the end of the project, pupils have a greater awareness of the North East STEM sector and a greater understanding of routes into employment and Further and Higher Education. And having worked with both male and female STEM sector employees has helped to break down gender inequality perceptions associated with the industry.

The programme brought Bothal Primary School pupils together with peers from two other local primaries, and teachers observed that working alongside pupils from other schools, and composer Andy Ingamells, has had a notable impact on levels of confidence and soft skills like resilience and teamwork. 

Before the start of the programme, only two pupils said that they wanted to go to university and at the end, every child that took part said that they would like to. 

The Northumberland Space Programme culminated in a performance, which was led by pupils and aided by acclaimed composer Andy Ingamells. Family and friends were encouraged to come along to celebrate the work and achievements of pupils.

Top tips for success:
•    This project was run and funded by the charity ‘Hand of’ at a cost of approximately £15,000. Grants were available due to the SEN/PP/EAL focus. 
•    This project could be replicated to a lesser extent within schools by ensuring that links are made between National Curriculum objectives and local history, geography, science and music, and by ensuring there is a visit to a local STEM sector employer and a further/higher education establishment.

Three biggest challenges:
•    The length of the project, which required seven full days.
•    Staffing costs, which were overcome by using HLTAs instead of teaching staff where possible, plus a number of teachers volunteering to use PPA or leadership time to take part. 
•    There was a considerable amount of admin involved but, based on outcomes for pupils, all staff involved highly recommend the programme and are very keen to take part again.

What next?
Bothal Primary School intends to apply for the Northumberland Space Programme again and, if future funding is not available, will replicate the key elements where possible. 

For more details contact James Palmer, Ashington Learning Partnership STEM Coordinator, on [email protected]