Government report commends University of Sheffield outreach scheme that brings children into chemistry labs

Schools LabA University of Sheffield scheme that brings local schoolchildren into the Department of Chemistry to experience life as a scientist has been hailed as an area of good practice in a government report.

Cool to be Clever promotes academic excellence and aspiration amongst some of the most disadvantaged pupils in Sheffield.

It draws pupils from some of the most deprived areas of Sheffield to attend sessions led by students and staff at the University, Sheffield High School and Arbourthorne Primary to boost their learning and aspiration.

The outreach and widening participation project was highlighted as an example of good practice in the government's response to the consultation 'Schools that work for everyone', to which the University had submitted evidence.

This paper will inform future education policy on the role of universities in partnering with local state schools to help raise attainment and aspiration for all pupils.

Cool to be Clever is run by the University's Outreach and Widening Participation team in partnership with Sheffield High School and the South East Learning Partnership family of schools. Around 70 of the most able yet most disadvantaged year five and six pupils from 13 local primary schools participate.

Pupils explore topics such as poetry, art, critical thinking, and careers and aspirations, as well as spending time making bath bombs in our Kroto Schools Laboratory, led by Dr Sara Bacon.

The scheme aims to foster key skills in the children, including independent learning and self-reflection, teamwork, confidence and resilience. It helps foster a passion for learning in pupils whilst equipping them with the skills and aspiration to aim high, including introducing the concept of Higher Education from an early age

At the end of the programme the year six pupils, along with their parents, attend a special graduation event to celebrate their achievements, dressing in graduation robes and mortar boards to receive their certificates.

Gaynor Loxley, Outreach and Widening Participation Manager at the University of Sheffield, said: "The aspirations of the children who participate in Cool to Be Clever are already high, something that is easy to forget when we discuss areas of high deprivation. Undertaking activities in other learning environments beyond their own school or local community helps to broaden their horizons and expand their already high goals. There is no doubt that the enthusiasm and commitment from the partner organisations is fundamental in the success of this programme."

The University of Sheffield’s Outreach and Widening Participation team works with around 1279 school children in intensive outreach programmes of between 2-3 years in duration. The team collaborate with students, schools, teachers and parents alongside local and national partnerships to develop a range of innovative activities that are fun and engaging, whilst being academically challenging for the young people.

The government’s ‘Schools that work for everyone’ consultation called for submissions on how best to harness the resources and expertise of independent schools and the Higher Education sector in widening access to disadvantaged pupils. Following the consultation, a dedicated unit within the Department For Education has been set up to work with universities and independent schools to develop and strengthen partnerships with state schools to help raise attainment and aspiration for all pupils. 

Kroto Schools Laboratory