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RCUK School-University Partnerships Initiative

The School-University Partnerships Initiative is a three-year initiative to create structured and strategic mechanisms for HEIs to work in partnership with secondary schools and FE colleges. This partnership working will support researchers’ direct engagement with students and bring contemporary and inspirational research contexts into formal and informal learning to enhance and enrich the curriculum.

The aims of the School-University Partnerships Initiative are to:

  • Inspire the next generation by facilitating engagement between secondary school students and researchers to bring contemporary research into formal and informal learning contexts to enhance the curriculum and raise ambition;
  • Reach secondary school students from a diversity of backgrounds and abilities and engage the widest possible range of teachers and schools in ways which have maximum impact on teaching quality and learning;
  • Provide researchers (particularly those in the early stages of their career) with opportunities and training to engage with secondary school students and develop their transferable skills as outlined in the Researcher Development Framework (RDF);
  • Support secondary schools and HEIs to work together to create structured, strategic, sustainable and equitable mechanisms for school-university engagement which increases the breadth and quality of interactions between researchers and students.

In March 2015, RCUK extended the funding to projects participating in the School-University Partnerships Initiative by one year, based on early programme evaluation and the perceived added merit in allowing the scheme to complete three full annual cycles. This will enable the projects to develop a particular emphasis on embedding and sustainability in the final phase of the Initiative.

The following HEIs have been awarded funding:

For further information please visit the NCCPE website here.

Aberystwyth University

Principal Investigator: Professor John Grattan
Title: SusNet Wales (Sustainability Network Wales): A collaborative multidisciplinary platform for inspiration and transformation of the next generation
Lead school: Penglais School (Aberystwyth)

SusNet Wales is a collaborative multi-disciplinary approach to delivering a "Module" in Sustainability and Social Responsibility developed, led and delivered by practising researchers within Aberystwyth University. The module consists of four units; a central generic "Research Skills" unit and three "Academic Discipline" units which can be blended to tailor the programme to individual schools or individual students within each school. Developed with the schools, the "Academic Discipline" units will add value to, and extend the range of, A level curriculum activities.

Aberystwyth University will engage with the seven comprehensive schools comprising the Ceredigion schools alliance (led by Penglais School) by providing opportunities to engage students with practising researchers working in disciplines across the breadth of the university. Closely aligned with RCUK’s Public Engagement with Research Strategy we aim to inspire young people and enhance their experience of contemporary research. The schools within the alliance vary in size and two are designated as bilingual schools where the majority of subjects are taught in Welsh. The rural location of Aberystwyth can limit opportunities for students to engage with research and areas of Ceredigion are also recorded as pockets of deprivation within the Communities First Programme. The schools within the alliance would therefore particularly benefit from the support provided by RCUK. Aberystwyth University is ideally placed to provide exposure to world class research coupled with communication in the language of choice, thus encouraging young people to pursue relevant post-16 studies, establish research careers and become better informed global citizens.

Project contact: Dr Paula Hughes (pah15@aber.ac.uk), Dr Rhys Thatcher (ryt@aber.ac.uk)

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University of Bristol

Principal Investigator: Professor Anthony Guy Orpen
Title: Schools partnerships initiative
Lead schools: Backwell School (Backwell, North Somerset), Cabot Learning Federation (Bristol)

We will be building on existing relationships with schools across Bristol, through the two teaching school alliances (TSAs), to bring cutting-edge research into classroom teaching to inspire the next generation of researchers. Working with our two TSA partners we have developed all sorts of ideas, including working with the Cabot Learning Federation on projects where school pupils will act as co-researchers with our academics, and with the alliance led by Backwell School on off-timetable days for year 7 students and visits to the University to see and participate in research in action. Training is a key part of our bid and we are pleased to be working with Graphic Science, the well-known training provider for the STEMNET programme, as well as staff from the University’s ChemLabS project. We are also working with our local science centre At-Bristol and the Science Learning Centre South West to bring research into informal education settings, and ensure that teachers are enabled to work with their students following interactions with a researcher. Learning is at the heart of our approach, and researchers in our Graduate School of Education will lead an action research project, involving pupils and teachers, that will feed into the project at every stage.

Project contacts: Dr Kate Miller (kate.miller@bristol.ac.uk) and Ellie Cripps (ellie.cripps@bristol.ac.uk), Schools Partnership Coordinator.

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Cardiff University

Principal Investigator: Professor Patricia Price
Title: Cardiff University Schools Partnership
Lead school: Cardiff University will work with Cardiff Council and the Central South Consortium Joint Education Service to reach secondary schools in Cardiff and its surrounding areas

Cardiff University will be working with Cardiff Council and the other four authorities in the Central South Consortium Joint Educational Services to support 60 secondary schools. The programme has four key strands of activity.

  1. Ensuring that Cardiff University’s engagement programme meets the needs of teachers and pupils through teachers critiquing the existing provision and then funding the development of new or improved activities.
  2. Providing opportunities for teachers to spend extended time at the University to develop a greater understanding of the resources available and to discover the frontiers of research in their subjects.
  3. Developing skills of University staff and students for engaging with secondary schools
  4. Exploring how the University can support young people who are not in education, employment or training.

In addition to the local authorities, the partnership also involves local engagement organisations including Amgueddfa Cymru-National Museum Wales, Techniquest, See Science and science made simple.

Project contact: Sue Diment (diments@cardiff.ac.uk)

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University of East Anglia

Principal Investigator: Professor Kay Yeoman
Title: School-University Partnerships for Research
Lead school: City of Norwich School (Norwich)

The University of East Anglia (UEA), which is part of the Norwich Research Park (NRP), has received funding from RCUK to form a partnership, ‘Research-East’ with a number of secondary schools that will engage staff and students with the process and understanding of the research process and its outcomes. Research is the foundation upon which all new knowledge is built, it is a vital and fascinating process and will be crucial in the development of a knowledge economy.

The Research East partnership includes the City of Norwich School (CNS) as the lead school, with Attleborough High School, Archbishop Sancroft High School, Thetford Academy and Wymondham Academy in Norfolk, as well as the Kesgrave and Farlingaye Teaching Alliance in Suffolk and Norwich School also participating. Within ‘Research-East’ the NRP will engage students with the ideas and processes of research that occurs across all subject areas, including science, history, literature, language and art. We will show how research is done and highlight the differences and similarities between the research processes in different disciplines. We will also show that sciences, arts and humanities subjects do not exist in isolation, and that much can be gained by working together in a cross-disciplinary way to investigate and solve problems. Dr Kay Yeoman, the project leader says that this is a really exciting opportunity for schools and the NRP to work together to enthuse school students.

As well as involving all of the research active organisations on the NRP the partnership will also involve other local and national organisations, including the Teacher:Scientist Network (TSN), the Science, Art and Writing (SAW) Trust, UEA's newly established Centre for Writing and Science, the Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery, the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts and the Engineering Development Trust (EDT). The cross disciplinary, multi-partner based approach, will enable the programme to inspire a future generation.

Project contact: Dr Kay Yeoman (k.yeoman@uea.ac.uk)  

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University of Exeter

Principal Investigator: Empowering Partnerships: Enabling Engagement
Title: Professor Debra Myhill
Lead schools: Kingsbridge Community College (Kingsbridge), Torquay Girls’ Grammar School (Torquay), The Woodroffe School (Lyme Regis, Dorset), Mullion School (Mullion, Cornwall)

The Empowering Partnerships: Enabling Engagement project will be structured around four research themes: Science and Mathematics; Technology and Engineering; Philosophy of Contemporary Dilemmas; and Economic Understanding. These four themes reflect cutting-edge research activity: the Environment and Sustainability Institute in Cornwall; the Centre for Additive Layer Manufacturing; the EGENIS Centre researching the social impacts of genomic science; and the Centre for Risk and Ambiguity in economics. These are well-aligned to the secondary school curriculum, and are key areas for the future which students will need as they mature and become active citizens. Each theme will be the focus for one lead school and its cluster schools, located in four different areas of the South West.

Each theme will be led by a core team of three experts, a subject academic who is a leading researcher in that theme, an education expert from the Graduate School of Education, and a teacher from the lead school in each theme. This core group will act as co-ordinating leads for the project but will draw on the expertise of other academics in the topic area, particularly early career researchers, as appropriate. The lead teacher will work actively with at least 5 other teachers across the schools cluster, acting as the co-ordinating link between schools and the university. The core team will collaborate to develop an engagement plan of activities for the project and a legacy plan for beyond the lifespan of the project.

Project contact: Dr Alison Black (a.e.black@exeter.ac.uk)

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Imperial College

Principal Investigator: Prof Lord Robert Winston
Title: RCUK School-University Partnership Initiative: Reaching Further
Lead schools: Holt School (Wokingham, West Berkshire), Kendrick School (Reading, Berkshire), Bacon's College (Rotherhithe, London), Watford School for Boys (Watford, Hertfordshire)

The Reaching Further programme draws on Imperial’s world leading science, technology, engineering and medical (STEM) researchers to deliver cutting edge schools outreach, utilising the Reach Out Lab (ROL), a hands-on outreach facility at Imperial for STEM activities for school students and their teachers.

We are now able to take a strategic approach, accelerating the roll out of Reaching Further allowing it to operate across all Faculties, training significantly more early career researchers developing their public engagement skills (communication, personal effectiveness, networking and team-working) and working with more teachers building their knowledge and understanding of contemporary research issues. The expanded programme maximises current investment to optimise school students' engagement with cutting edge research, enhancing their understanding of science, engineering, maths and medicine and raising self esteem in STEM subjects (at school and beyond) potentially leading to HEI applications and highlighting research as a viable career option.

With a capacity of 5,000 students per year the ROL is fully utilised within the academic year and vacation periods. The numbers of Gifted and Talented students alone numbering over 100,000 in London and against this background of high level use, the ROL has initiated a programme of working with Hub schools in key locations to provide opportunities for more school students and their teachers to engage with the STEM Outreach activities generated by early career researchers and supported by the dedicated ROL team. RCUK support will enable more Hub relationships to be developed modelled on the established relationships at current Hub schools.

Dr Mel Bottrill (m.bottrill@imperial.ac.uk) and Dr Rebecca Holloway (r.holloway@imperial.ac.uk)

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Lancaster University

Principal Investigator: Professor Sharon Huttly
Title: RCUK-SUP: Inspiring the Next Generation of UK Researchers
Lead school: Queen Elizabeth School (Kirkby Lonsdale, Carnforth)

The proposed programme of work aims to develop a structured and strategic partnership between Lancaster University and the South Lakes Teaching School Alliance led by Queen Elizabeth School, Kirkby Lonsdale, as the Teaching School. It will enable us to address two key areas of Lancaster University’s public engagement strategic vision:

  1. Responding to the Region - Lancaster University is located at the centre of one of the largest regions in England, encompassing the largest rural county (Cumbria). This geographical location presents challenges for schools wishing to engage with a University, and for Lancaster University to engage with a range of diverse communities.

  2. Developing Early Career Researchers - We have a strong commitment to support the career development of our research staff and we wish to embed public engagement as an integral element of our CPD and doctoral training programmes.

Importantly, we believe this programme will provide enhanced professional development opportunities for teachers through research training, and increasing awareness of the role and importance of research and its relevance to the curriculum: it will train, support and facilitate our researchers in public engagement, enhancing their skills and personal development; for pupils and researchers alike it will highlight the relevance and importance of research both to their studies and their everyday lives. By bringing contemporary research into schools to engage, inspire, enthuse and enrich the learning experience, we aim to inspire the next generation of researchers.

Project contact: Dr Catherine Baxendale (c.baxendale@lancaster.ac.uk

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The National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement (NCCPE)

The National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement (NCCPE) is working with the 12 SUPI projects to develop effective practice in this important area, and share learning with the wider sector. In addition, the NCCPE is working with other organisations supporting similar initiatives, to ensure we learn together and maximise the value of the work being done. The NCCPE acts as a central point of contact and advice for all SUPI projects, facilitating inter-project communication, and organising termly events to capture and share learning, as well as supporting RCUK to evaluate the SUPI programme as a whole.

Contact: Claire Wood (claire6.wood@uwe.ac.uk)
Website: www.publicengagement.ac.uk/SUPI 

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The Open University

Principal Investigator: Professor Richard Holliman
Title: Engaging opportunities: connecting young people with contemporary research and researchers
Lead school: Denbigh School (Milton Keynes)

The Engaging Opportunities project is built around an existing partnership between The Open University and the Denbigh Teaching School Alliance. Over three years we will engage 3800 young people from Milton Keynes with Open University research and researchers. The project team will work with Open University researchers and school-age students from Key Stages 3, 4 and 5 to plan, deliver and assess opportunities for engagement, drawing on a flexible and adaptable framework involving four types of activities: Open Lectures; Open Dialogues, Open Inquiry; and Open Creativity.

Evaluation research will assess success against the project's objectives: inspiring young people to consider a range of careers in research and raise ambition to succeed in these ends; raising awareness of different types of academic research; developing skills and competencies that empower citizenship and facilitate media literacy; generating awareness of the nature and challenges of contemporary research; and introducing discussion about the social, economic and ethical impacts of research.

The project will embed a culture at The Open University where schools-university engagement is strategically planned, effectively delivered, and systematically assessed. Young people who wish to make the transition from school to university will be more effectively supported, whilst those engaging will develop skills and competencies that will empower them to participate in debates and deliberations about the social, economic and ethical impacts of research.

Project contact: Dr Richard Holliman (Richard.Holliman@open.ac.uk) and Diane Ford (Diane.Ford@open.ac.uk

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Queen's University Belfast

Principal Investigator: Professor Tom Millar
Title: Inspiring Lives: Creating Futures
Lead schools: Glengormley High School (Glengormley, County Antrim), St Mary's Grammar School (Magherafelt, County Londonderry)

Queen's University Belfast, in partnership with four Area Learning Communities across Northern Ireland and working with 34 participating schools, will develop and deliver a programme of public engagement projects within the context of four major themes.

These cover the full range of RCUK-supported research undertaken in the University. Each of the four projects will be supported by academic staff, experienced in research and public engagement, and early career researchers who will work with teachers and pupils to enthuse and motivate young people to reflect on academic and career choices at an early stage.

The projects will address a number of issues such as the future role of creative technologies, aiming to encourage pupils to develop new skills in this rapidly changing environment. A second project will consider national borders and issues such as multiculturalism, globalisation, identities and nationhood. Another project will address problems of global concern – energy, water, food, environment, sustainability – while the final project will take pupils on an interactive journey from patient symptoms to clinical diagnosis, disease biomarker discovery, drug development and back to the patient for treatment.

Our aim is to involve pupils, mostly in Years 9 and 10, in addressing real world problems and to engage them in research and learning experiences that utilise the latest research and latest digital technologies.

Project contacts: Professor Tom Millar (tom.millar@qub.ac.uk) and Paula Moran (p.moran@qub.ac.uk)

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University of Southampton

Principal Investigator: Professor Marcus Grace
Title: Talk To US! Engaging University of Southampton (US) researchers with secondary school students and teachers
Lead schools: Bitterne Park School (Southampton), Wildern School (Southampton), Hounsdown School (Totten, Hampshire)

Talk to US! engages secondary school students and teachers with researchers and research at the University of Southampton. The partner teaching schools, Bitterne Park School, Hounsdown School and Wildern School, are recognised for their outstanding performance. The partnership will encourage subsequent involvement of schools which seldom engage in University outreach activities. Six sub-projects will be run by researchers from the University’s Southampton Education School, the Faculty of Medicine, the Faculty of Engineering and the Environment, Oceanography, Chemistry and Biological Sciences. These sub-projects share common features:

  • Professional development for teachers to help them develop a research culture among themselves and their students
  • Professional development for university researchers on how best to work with teenagers
  • Research-related activities which link with the school curriculum
  • Small-scale school-based research carried out by students
  • Small-scale action research carried out by teachers
  • An end of year 'celebration' at the University, for students to exhibit their work, share experiences and present posters on their research projects.

Students will benefit from the project by experiencing research first-hand, having direct contact with researchers, and becoming more ‘research literate’. Teachers will become equipped with the skills and confidence to include contemporary research in the classroom. Researchers will experience more effective ways of working with local schools.

A video has been produced detailing the partnership.

Project contacts: Professor Marcus Grace (M.M.Grace@soton.ac.uk) and Jess Spurrell (J.Spurrell@soton.ac.uk), Project Manager.

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University of Strathclyde

Principal Investigator: Professor Tim Bedford
Title: MUSE: Models of University and School Engagement
Lead schools: Bellahouston Academy (Glasgow), Knightswood Secondary (Glasgow), Springburn Academy (Glasgow)

The Models of Schools – University Engagement (MUSE) project will expand Strathclyde’s pioneering Vertically Integrated Projects (VIP) initiative into schools.

In each of Strathclyde’s 4 existing VIPs, undergraduates and postgraduates work in cross-disciplinary groups alongside academics and researchers at different stages in their career development, with each group led by an experienced senior academic. Students learn teamwork, project management and leadership skills, and experience working in a research environment, while academics benefit from students' contributions to their research programmes.

In the MUSE project, this approach will be extended to involve school pupils and teachers. In the first year of the project, a new pilot VIP will be created to engage 3 socially and ethnically diverse Glasgow schools in cross-disciplinary research focusing on Glasgow as a city of technological change. The new VIP will include academics and students in computer & information sciences, engineering, education, history and English, and staff and pupils of different age groups from the 3 schools. Together, they will devise and conduct a linked series of research projects, and disseminate findings through events and exhibitions in various local and city centre venues to attract a wide range of audiences. Additional schools and VIPs will be included in subsequent years, with the potential to expand the model to other institutions.

Ultimately, the project will contribute to Strathclyde’s staff and students’ research and public engagement experience, teachers’ career development and pupils’ aspirations for further and higher education.

Project contact: June Cunningham (june.cunningham@strath.ac.uk), Madeleine Rooney (madeleine.rooney@strath.ac.uk), Professor Geri Smyth (g.smyth@strath.ac.uk)  

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The University of Manchester

Principal Investigator: Professor Timothy O'Brien
Title: The University of Manchester Research Gateway for Schools and Colleges
Lead school: Altrincham Grammar School for Girls (Altrincham, Cheshire)

The University of Manchester's RCUK School-University Partnership work will create and embed a Research Gateway for Schools and Colleges to support secondary schools, colleges and the University to work together in bringing contemporary research to life with young people from all backgrounds.

Examples of projects to be delivered include:

  • a single online ‘brokerage’ service that links trained 'public-engagement active' research staff with schools and colleges who seek the input of researchers into areas of the curriculum;
  • using the collections and objects in the University's public spaces such as the Manchester Museum, Whitworth Art Gallery, John Rylands Library and Jodrell Bank Discovery Centre, to bring young people into contact with PhD and early career researchers;
  • a programme of interactive and practical activities, delivered on campus and in school, showcasing the institution's breadth of discipline areas;
  • web-based resources providing young people and their advisers with exciting, relevant and age-tailored information on research as a career;
  • support for learners undertaking the Extended Project Qualification to get an early taste of the research process through undertaking primary research inquiries.

The University will work in partnership with a diverse range of schools and colleges across the region, including its partner Altrincham Grammar School for Girls, four other local Teaching Schools and institutions targeted as part of its extensive widening participation strategy.

The Research Gateway for Schools and Colleges will also build an infrastructure of training, reward, evaluation and dissemination to embed this work within the institution.

A video detailing the scheme is available here.

Project contacts: Roz Webster (roz.webster@manchester.ac.uk), Project Officer, and Edward Trotman (edward.trotman@manchester.ac.uk)

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