Support for STEM in the North

The REACT Foundation wants to inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers by providing enrichment activities and financial support. Here's how it helped a group of primary school children design their school of the future

Cumbria-based REACT Engineering is a project management consultancy that develops smart solutions to some of the industry's toughest problems. So, when Year 5 and 6 pupils were able to work with engineers from REACT on an eight-week Schools of the Future programme, their eyes were opened to a whole range of new experiences and ideas.

The programme was run by The REACT Foundation, the charitable arm of REACT Engineering, set up to raise the aspirations of young people in West Cumbria and encourage them to take up STEM subjects. A team from REACT shared their professional expertise with a total of 34 pupils from St Patrick’s and Montreal primary schools, both in Cleator Moor, and St Joseph's Catholic Primary School in Frizington.

Pupils were challenged to come up with futuristic design ideas of what their schools could look like 50 years from now. They were also taken to the University of Oxford, along with teaching representatives from each school, so that they could present their project to lecturers and students. During the trip, the children stayed in student accommodation at Jesus College for two nights and visited nearby attractions. They also attended lectures, took part in a bridge-building competition and presented their Schools of the Future visions.

St Patrick's teacher Jean Gillson explained how the children were challenged to draw what they thought an Oxford student would be like. 'We had a variety of characters and after discussions the pupils realised that anyone can become an Oxford student. This was a fantastic opportunity for our children, who otherwise would never have had the chance to dream big and realise that university is an option for them.'

Similarly, the headteacher at Montreal, Lindsay Burnett, added: 'Our children developed their speaking and listening skills and were able to problem-solve and plan their project with graduates from REACT. They loved the visit to learn what life would be like as an Oxford student – they were so inspired by the lectures and their self-belief grew as they realised they could one day be part of such a wonderful institution. You could see the pride they had in their project as they presented at Jesus College.'

For Year 6 pupil Bella, the experience was a chance in a lifetime. 'Not many ten and 11 year olds get to go to the University of Oxford and meet the students there. It has encouraged me to try to get into university when I’m older, and I wanted to thank The REACT Foundation so much.'

Programme organiser Kyle Hannah says that being part of Schools of the Future allowed the pupils to show what great skills they have to offer. 'Travelling across the country to stay in an unfamiliar city was a daunting experience for many, but their engagement, attitude and infectious energy blew us all away. The trip empowered them to take control of their own future and map out what they might do.'

Founded in 2004 to mark the tenth anniversary of REACT Engineering, The REACT Foundation has worked with more than 75,000 young people. Awarded the Queen's Award for Voluntary Service, the Foundation also offers financial bursaries to Year 11 and sixth form students who are going on to study STEM subjects at college or university.