Hundreds of schoolchildren to gain a head start in science thanks to £90,000 grant

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An innovative new project is seeking to sharpen the science skills of hundreds of schoolchildren in Newcastle and Northumberland.

Thanks to a grant of £90,000 from SHINE, through a partnership with regional schools’ network Schools North East, a programme is being introduced at six primary schools that is designed to give pupils the skills they need to succeed in biology, chemistry, and physics when they move to secondary.

Around 900 children between the ages of 7 and 11 will take part in the three-year pilot, which will be extended into other schools if it proves to be a success.

The scheme, which is being led by Sacred Heart Catholic High School in the city’s west-end, will see secondary school science teachers working alongside primary school staff to create a new science curriculum.

It is being developed to “bridge the gap” that currently exists between primary and secondary school. Many children – particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds – start Year 7 without basic science skills, which means teachers can spend a lot of time helping these students catch-up with their peers.

Developing these children’s knowledge of science at an earlier age should give them a head start at high school which could have long-term benefits and lead to improved GCSE results.

The primary schools taking part are Sacred Heart RC Primary School, Newcastle, English Martyrs Catholic Primary School, Newcastle, Our Lady and St Anne’s RC Primary School, Newcastle, St Cuthbert’s Catholic Primary School, Walbottle, St Cuthbert’s Catholic Primary School, Kenton, St Bede’s Catholic Primary School, Bedlington.

Sacred Heart High School science teacher Alex Robertson explained that primary teachers will receive training in delivering science lessons that will give their pupils a solid grounding in science.

“This is not about telling primary school teachers how to do their job,” he stressed. “What primary school teachers are expected to know is unbelievably broad and they are not all science specialists.

“What we are doing is giving help and support to these teachers and providing them with the resources they need. It is very much a collaborative effort. We will provide training in the areas that they will find of most use.”

We know that science lessons in primary school can be fun, engaging and rewarding, as well as developing essential skills that children need to progress in secondary school and beyond. I am thrilled that we are supporting this exciting project to bring together primary and secondary schools to ensure that children have the very best experience of science.

Dr Helen Rafferty Interim CEO, SHINE

Mr Robertson said that disparities between children were clear as soon as they started at secondary school. “We’d ask, for example, if they know how to draw a bar graph and 10 children might say yes, but another 20 say no. It’s been an issue we’ve experienced for some years now.

“What we’ve found in asking primary school teachers about this is that they simply don’t have the time or the resources to plan a really good curriculum in every single subject. So they’ve been very receptive to us supporting them with that.”

Over the first year of the three-year programme, a new science curriculum will be created, and Mr Robertson says creating new science lessons for the primary schools is a “mammoth task”, involving between 20 and 25 lessons per year, in biology, chemistry and physics.

Secondary specialists are working alongside primary teachers to ensure the lessons work for younger children. “There’s definitely collaboration needed from them, because we’re not used to teaching little ones,” Mr Robertson explained.

Another aim of the project is to involve parents more in their children’s learning. Parents will be given homework marking schemes so they can see an example model of what the work should look like.

Mr Roberston said: “I’ve spoken to many parents, who themselves get stressed because they don’t know what the expectations are for the homework, and they want to help their children. And if they’re stressed, the child is stressed. This will remove some of that anxiety and hopefully help to create more of a dialogue between parents and schools and make homework more useful.”

The project is one of a number funded by SHINE through a partnership with regional schools’ network Schools North East, which is bringing investment of £500,000 to schools in the region.

The programmes are facilitated through the Ednorth programme which aims to inspire change in classrooms across the North East; promoting an educational culture led by informed debate, research, and collaboration.

“I was thrilled to receive the funding,” said Mr Robertson. “I believe this project will make a big difference to children who are moving to secondary school.”

The teacher hopes the project will do more than just raise attainment. “I would like to see more confidence in pupils when they start secondary school, he said. “And I would like them to feel more confident about talking about science.”

Dr Helen Rafferty, Interim CEO of SHINE, said: “We know that science lessons in primary school can be fun, engaging and rewarding, as well as developing essential skills that children need to progress in secondary school and beyond. I am thrilled that we are supporting this exciting project to bring together primary and secondary schools to ensure that children have the very best experience of science. We’re very much looking forward to seeing the programme develop and learning more about the impact.”

Chris Zarraga, Director, Schools North East, said: “Schools North East are delighted that the skills and innovation of North East schools are being developed to create solutions to problems that are genuinely fit for the context they are going to be used in. It’s clear from this initiative that North East schools can lead the nation on this and that gaps can be successfully bridged from primary to secondary schools.”

For more information about SHINE grants for schools and the Ednorth programme, visit www.ednorth.uk