New Leicester schools scheme to open space aspirations

Tim Peake with Dr Suzie Imber and schoolchildren at the National Space Centre in Leicester. Credit: ESA

A new University of Leicester scheme, backed by the UK Space Agency, will enhance STEM skills for primary schoolchildren across Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland.

The Open Space programme, supported by the UK Space Agency’s ‘Space for All’ fund and The Ogden Trust, aims to show Key Stage 2-level children that space isn’t just about being an astronaut.

Resources bring together classroom and home learning to enhance the enjoyment and accessibility of the space sector for young people, their families and their teachers.

Linking to the national curriculum and aiming to increase the confidence of non-specialist science teachers in space teaching, Open Space will encourage student engagement and confidence in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), ahead of their transition to secondary-level education.

The project is led by Dr Suzie Imber, Associate Professor in Space Physics, who has already engaged more than 40,000 children from over 400 schools with space-focused outreach projects and workshops, alongside the University’s Outreach Team.

She said: “The aim of our project is to use space as a way to engage students and teachers in topics that span the primary-level national curriculum, sharing our enthusiasm and excitement for the subject with young people in the East Midlands and across the country.

“We know that the transition from primary to secondary-level education is critical for maintaining confidence and interest in STEM subjects, and we have recognised the influence of both teachers, families and carers on young people’s perception of their ability at STEM subjects, and their future career options.”

The 2020 Space Census, funded by the University, showed that women and ethnic minority groups were under-represented in the UK space industry. The Open Space scheme will contribute to Leicester’s broader objective of widening participation in this area.

A total of 60 schools from the region – including 20 from areas of social deprivation identified by The Ogden Trust – will receive tailored classroom and take-home kits to spark a passion for STEM.

Classroom resources will include a lab or playground experiment on a space-related topic, with full lesson plans and FAQ documents for teachers. Experiments include demonstrations of rocket propulsion, space energy and life in space.

Pupils will also be offered take-home kits with a mini experiment to complete at home, an illustrated story to read with their families and a fact sheet focusing on the life and career of an inspiring scientist or engineer.

The Space for All community funding scheme is run to support the education and outreach aims and objectives of the UK Space Agency, as set out in its Education, Skills and Outreach Strategy.

Supported projects encourage the use of space as an inspiring context for teaching and learning, by addressing the skills needs of the UK space sector and by improving awareness of the UK’s space programme and STEM literacy in general.

Jeremy Curtis, Head of Education and Skills at the UK Space Agency, added: “The UK Space Agency is keen to use space to help young people develop a greater interest in STEM subjects, whether or not they decide one day to pursue a career in the fast-growing UK space sector.

“We are delighted to be able to support Dr Imber and her project that will inspire young people and those that influence them at a crucial stage in their education. The focus on disadvantaged children is especially welcome as we believe that all children should be able to aspire to work in space.”

The Ogden Trust is a charitable trust that exists to promote the teaching and learning of physics by enabling innovative teaching to take place in, and collaboratively between, schools, often forging links to universities and other organisations.

Clare Harvey, Chief Executive of The Ogden Trust, said: “Space is a topic that always enthuses young learners and captures their imagination. This programme will remind pupils that space is about more than just being an astronaut and will open their eyes to a wide world of space-related opportunities.”

“We are delighted to be working with Suzie again and know the enthusiasm and inspiration she brings to learning – the Open Space programme she has developed includes some fantastic resources and take-home science kits.

“It will build valuable links between classroom and home-learning, helping to build science capital, confidence and enthusiasm. We are looking forward to sharing the programme with some of our school partnerships.”