Oxford students and lecturers praise engineering potential of pupils

PRIMARY school pupils impressed lecturers and engineering students at one of the world’s most prestigious universities with their futuristic visions of school buildings in 50 years’ time.

The students from West Cumbria presented their creative designs to the University of Oxford during a recent visit organised as part of The React Foundation’s Schools of the Future programme.

The React Foundation, born out of Cleator Moor-based React Engineering, ran weekly after school sessions with Year 5 and 6 pupils at St Patrick’s and Montreal CofE, both in Cleator Moor, and St Joseph’s, in Frizington. The project challenged the students to design and manufacture a prototype of how they envisage what their school will look like in 50 years’ time. 

At the end of the 12-week programme, the pupils headed to Jesus and Queen’s College at the University for a two-night stay in dormitories, with the visit culminating in a presentation of their work to engineering students and lecturers.

Dr Matthew Williams, of Jesus College, said: “It was our immense pleasure hosting three Cumbrian schools in Oxford, and the children from St Joseph’s, St Patrick’s and Montreal were a delight throughout their visit.

Participants in The React Foundation’s Schools of the Future programme were given tours of the University of Oxford.

“We were blown away by the questions they came up with, their endless energy and the fantastic ideas they had for the future of education. We look forward to them applying to Oxford University one day soon.”

The Schools of the Future programme was piloted by The React Foundation last year and has been developed due to its immediate success.

To help prepare for the final presentation at the University of Oxford, volunteers from the Foundation introduced a workshop at Cleator Moor Civic Hall to improve their presentation skills and confidence in public speaking.

As well as the educational activities, the Cumbrian pupils toured the city of Oxford, visited Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology, enjoyed a movie night and tested themselves against their peers in a quiz.

One pupil from St Patrick’s, said: “I learned about how amazing we all are – we had a lecture about humans and our brains, and how powerful they are. My favourite part of the trip was the chemistry activity because I love science, and it was really interesting.”

A pupil from St Joseph’s added: “I was very proud as the graduates were really interested in our project and impressed with our ideas.”

Accompanying the children on the trip were two teaching representatives from each school, who were grateful to The React Foundation for giving their pupils an opportunity not often available to young people in West Cumbria.

Annette Savage, the headteacher at St Joseph’s, said: “This has been a once in a lifetime opportunity which has raised aspirations for all involved, and the children thoroughly enjoyed the whole project from brainstorming their ideas of their futuristic schools to making their models and then developing their speaking and listening skills to a standard where they confidently presented at the prestigious Oxford University.

“I cannot thank The React Foundation enough for giving our children such a brilliant opportunity to see a beautiful city they had never visited before and allowing them to be submerged in university life and inspiring them to set high goals for their own future.”

Students at St Patrick’s join in with science lessons at the University of Oxford.

Programme leader Kyle Hannah travelled to Oxford with three other volunteers from The React Foundation and sang the praises of all pupils for their great behaviour, endeavour and commitment to the entire programme.

He said: “The second year of the Schools of the Future programme has been a great success with another group of West Cumbrian pupils showing how brilliant they are and once again showing what Cumbria has to offer.

“The 12-week programme has provided a great opportunity to have an impact on our local community, raising the aspirations of young people in a meaningful way that can become the platform for shaping their futures. This has once again been a truly rewarding programme, and I’m excited already for next year.”

The React Foundation was founded in 2004 to mark the 10th anniversary of React Engineering and runs year-long fun activities and awards financial bursaries to provide new opportunities and inspire young people in West Cumbria to study STEM subjects.

The React Foundation was awarded The Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service, the equivalent to an MBE for UK volunteer groups, in 2021 and it has inspired more than 75,000 young people since its formation.

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