Town-wide project aims to develop a passion for science among children in Newton Aycliffe

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We want to inspire the next generation of scientists, but more than that, we want to make science a core subject again. One that students view the same way that they view maths and English.

Nic Jenkins Head of Science Academy at Woodham Academy

Thanks to an ambitious new project, children from across a County Durham town are developing a passion for science.

It is hoped that the new initiative, led by Woodham Academy in Newton Aycliffe, will improve science education across the town and inspire a new generation of scientists.

The project, which will benefit more than 600 children, has been made possible thanks to a grant of £57,000 from SHINE, an education charity which supports school- and teacher-led projects across the North.

Nic Jenkins, the Head of Science Academy at Woodham, developed the project after realising that few children were arriving at school with ambitions of a career in science.

The problem, she says, is partly down to the lack of science specialists at some of the town’s primary schools.

It is also down to a reduction in primary science teaching since the government ended the science Sat paper.

“What it means is that there is a wide discrepancy in science knowledge between children arriving at secondary school,” said Nic.

“Research shows that it is at primary school that students really develop the idea of what they want to be when they grow up. But what we don’t find often enough – particularly in Newton Aycliffe – are children wanting to be a scientist, because there is no aspiration to be a scientist. For many children in the town, science is not a career that is even an option they have considered.”

Having discussed the issue with science leads at Woodham’s eleven feeder primary schools, Nic discovered they faced a range of issues, including a lack of resources, inadequate staff training, a shortage of teachers from a science background, and a lack of confidence in teaching the subject.

Since 2020, Nic has been working in partnership with her primary school colleagues, with the shared aim of tackling these problems and trying to improve science education across the town.

But, she said, to be truly successful, “we knew that we needed to take it to the next level”.

The grant from SHINE is helping to fund SHINE @ Woodham, a three-year whole-town project with ambitious aims.

“We want to inspire the next generation of scientists,” said Nic. “But more than that, we want to make science a core subject again. One that students view the same way that they view maths and English.”

SHINE’s funding means that Nic can now dedicate two afternoons a week to leading workshops across all nine local primary schools. These lessons are observed by the primary teachers, who are then given the resources and lesson plans that they need to deliver the classes themselves.

Over the three years of the project, each of the primaries will receive everything they need to teach a comprehensive science curriculum. Every school will receive the same resources and lesson plans, ensuring consistent primary school science teaching across the town.

Once the primary teachers have been shown how to lead the lessons, the funding covers staff cover, so that they get time to implement the course.

Teachers receive training, lesson plans and resources, helping them to feel more confident teaching science.

“What we are doing will enable the teachers to better engage and excite students in practical led science, using appropriate equipment, ensuring that engagement in science is not lost in between sessions, and in the future,” said Nic.

Another portion of the budget is being spent on bringing speakers into school from local science and technology companies, as well as arranging field trips to places including a local nature reserve, chemical engineering plant and Hartlepool Nuclear Power Station.

“It’s about showing students here that science is a viable career opportunity for them,” Nic said.

“It’s about working together with local businesses, who are begging for apprentices, and showing students what’s available to them. It’s about working as a community.”

Nic said she and her primary school colleagues were “overjoyed” when they heard that the project had won SHINE funding.

“I got the e-mail in my room, and I was so excited I made a bit of a fool of myself. I literally ran all the way through the department, through the interlinked labs, to tell my husband, who is also a teacher here, and everybody thought there was something wrong.

“The funding means that we can turn something that we have been doing on a small scale into something that is of a much bigger scale, that we can build on year after year.

“We’re going to improve science in the whole town, that’s a big thing.”

Dr Helen Rafferty, Interim CEO of SHINE, added: “We are so pleased to be supporting this ambitious drive to improve science education across Newton Aycliffe. At SHINE, we’ve always believed in the power of great teachers. This project presents a great opportunity to build a community of teaching and strengthen the great practice which is happening locally.”