Thanks to an ambitious new project, children from across Newton Aycliffe are developing a passion for science.
It is hoped that the new initiative, led by Woodham Academy, 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 matter 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.
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.
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.
Dr Helen Rafferty, interim CEO of SHNE, 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.”