Aspiratio…..nope, we are ‘Developing Cultural/Social Capital’

I’m often told how valuable the work is here at Inspire2Learn to raise aspirations. On the surface, that is reasonably accurate but it actually belies the real impact that our work has. The vast majority of pupils that we work with have aspirations, a clear hope of what they might do in life. Yes there are many dreaming of playing Premiership football or packing out Wembley on a six night run but beneath that there are also lots of hopes that reach into a whole range of local careers. Today we had Y5 from Brambles attend a fantastic morning meeting people from a range of companies. Health Education England, PD Ports, EDF Energy, Sirius Minerals and Teesside University all hosted short presentations with around 15 children at a time to really get some close interaction between the children and the adults. We have a pretty strong indication from the growing research evidence, much of it over long periods of time, that these sorts of opportunities have a lasting impact on the pupils. That is what our events are really based on. Children may have aspirations but often they lack the belief that that could actually be something they could do, it feels a world away. Creating more awareness of what they could be doing in their future careers; giving them the opportunity to recognise the skills that they will need in the future through challenge based learning activities; making them aware of what jobs exist and on their doorstep…that is what will have a long term impact. The evidence form research is backing up what our experience of working with 40 000 odd pupils over the last few years has been telling us.

So no, we don’t ‘raise aspirations’ here.

We give pupils the belief that the world of work is something they can be part of, on their terms, if they work at it. Days like today are one part of a bigger jigsaw, but a vital one. One that helps children to expect to get a great job. Once you begin to expect that you will get a good job, it becomes the norm, that is what you will do and you will work towards it, even if the direction changes over time. Without knowing what even exists, how can we expect children to want and know that working hard opens up so many possibilities?

That is what today was about, developing a mindset that expects to get good things in life through effort. Judging by their feedback today, I think we had mission accomplished.

Planning Creativity

Another lovely group of pupils here today, Year 4 from William Cassidi. The theme was enterprise but as ever we have focussed on effective team work and working to a team plan. Through a series of activities around thinking about audience, the pupils have been busy trying to create a short presentation to showcase their new toy. The toy has been aimed at a specific audience of their choice, value propositions have been developed and this has evolved into a fabulous product with a USP. The children will present their ideas to the rest of the group and the films of that will appear here by about 3pm.

Every one of the creations has been thought through with a rationale for why it looks the way it does. You can see the diverse ideas that have been created as a result of really focussing on a specific audience for each project.

Creative Thinking Unleashed

It is always a huge pleasure to welcome Brambles and Saltburn Primary schools to the Centre and today was an absolute joy to meet Y2’s and Y3’s respectively. As always the focus began this morning on teamwork which we immediately tested through a creative challenge using the LEGO Build to Create sets. We then swiftly moved through meeting the brilliant Dash and Dot, some explorative coding, a review of how an advert tries to persuade you to buy a product and then the challenge to sit on that side of the fence. That means that they have spent the afternoon developing a simple product enhancement for the basic robot (using LEGO) and a simple six shot advert that has given them the chance to use some appropriate vocabulary to sell the product. Interestingly they started writing down ideas way before I asked them to. You can see from some of the pictures below that despite only being asked to discuss some ideas, many wanted to write about what they thought. This is what we often find on events here, children want to write, they see the context and the need. This is literacy with a real contextual purpose that we know if often hard to do in the everyday classroom setting. It just demonstrates the value that bringing the children out to a different site makes when engaging them and also getting them to see relevance in what they do. Schools can’t bring children out every week but even a handful of visits are valuable to the children as was explained to me today by one of the teachers.

Time was against them but many still managed to complete their adverts and Ive included snippets from the rest anyway. Some of these children are only six years old and what they achieved in one day is truly remarkable.

STEM Day – Final show of the year

Thank you so much TTE, Health Education England, Teesside University, CUBIC and ADM Pressings for allowing staff to come down to Inspire2Learn and inspire 100 children in STEM activities. We had everything from taking blood to launching rockets today and the children from Oakdene, St Paulinus and Grangetown Primaries were fantastically enthusiastic all day long. The research is increasingly clear that experiences like this, especially situated outside of school, have a great impact on children’s confidence and widening cultural capital. What our volunteers did today made a difference to lives, just a bit for most, more for others, but a bit. By having a sustained programme of engagement with the World of Work, (what it means, and what is possible – especially locally) we know that our children are more likely to work harder in school and be more clued up when entering the world of work. Thank you also to the teachers who supported the children in all the activities, the atmosphere was electric – literally during the science show at the end!

And you want to see what a rocket launch looks like using Andy for TTE’s compressor? Stick with it, it’s in slo – mo and takes a few seconds for anything to happen!


Well it is a first for me but today I tried to run one of our popular Locomaths days within a school. Did it work? Well I’ll let you be the judge.

The focus as always was on team working skills and the brilliant Y3/4 children at St Alphonsus’ in Middlesbrough showed them in abundance. They were then left to complete the challenge with the support of the wonderful teachers for the rest of the day. I will be returning to film their presentations at 1.45pm but for now here are some images of them beginning to plan:

It was interesting for me to see how the children had got on without me constantly focussing them on what I expected from the day. The teachers were unsure when I arrived back whether the children had done what I had wanted….but in a sense that wasn’t the point, the way that it fitted the children’s needs as an opportunity to work on a team challenge was the most important factor. As soon as the presentation began, it became clear that the children had worked really effectively as teams and their presentations were pretty well organised and clearly rehearsed:

And finally I had set the teachers the difficult challenge of picking the team that had worked best AS a team. Well done to the top team workers!

Does anybody need talented, committed employees in the next few years?

Great, well I’ve got loads for you.

The fabulous pupils from Ings Farm and Acklam Whin were a vision of what local project teams will look like in the next ten to fifteen years. Seriously, I would quite happily employ most of them in my business today judging on how they worked on our IMG_2782Locomaths Challenge. We started the day, as ever, with a focus on what team skills mean and the list they produced looks like the basis of every project team I have ever heard of. They are using the list as a check point for the way that they are attempting the task and there was a lot of discussion about how they get the best out of every team member.

And now they are attempting the task. They are in groups of up to eight so ensuring a clear team plan, with clear roles and responsibilities for each member has been essential. Looking round the work areas immediately shows that the division of labour has been organised really effectively with different pupils doing different tasks. What is also palpable is the sense of commitment to ‘get this right’. It is hard to describe what the atmosphere is like during our events. Our focus is always to create meaningful, relevant events that punctuate the wider education experience for each child. We have some projects next year which will potentially reach EVERY primary child in the Tees Valley, all 50 000 of them. Here is a taste of what our events look like, I wish I could bottle it!

We know from our experience and the growing research that developing social and cultural capital is the key driver in success for people through their lives. Qualifications and  certificates are a symptom of that mindset and are keys to unlock particular doors in a child’s life, but there are many doors. Great schools put a lot of time and effort into that aspect of a pupil’s development and as somebody who works with close to a hundred schools a year, my experience can tell when that work has been done. You can see it today if you are here at Inspire2Learn. Getting the mindset right, not ‘growth or closed’ but a mindset that is confident, is aware of what the future could hold and how the child could achieve it is the biggest challenge in many of towns. Our primaries are particularly good at doing this. They marry the statutory testing demands with a focus on developing pupil character and awareness of possibilities in later life. It makes a difference.

Let’s see what that looks like when challenged by a project:

They now have to get the myriad of tasks completed and formed into a presentation by 1.45pm. I’ve already heard talk about ‘working lunches’! The presentations will appear here after 3pm. Seriously if you need quality, committed staff, just let me know and I’ll pass on to the school. Believe me, their age is irrelevant from what I’ve seen so far.

Er…well some girls maybe!

It was a bit controversial yesterday’s blog suggesting that girls are naturally better engineers than boys…but you can read why I said it below. However today, after a year of running these events, we had the first ever team with at least some boys in it win the race with the fastest time. That however, was not the most interesting thing about today. We had the ever fabulous Y1 pupils from Oakdene Primary today. They worked hard, they collaborated in groups, they asked a squllion questions. But at the end I was asking them about engineering and the best thing ever happened. I suggested that engineers were usually men. The reaction was immediate ‘Nooooooo!, Don’t be silly……’ really? These Y1 children were quite genuinely gender blind to the role. Many of the girls told me during the day how they would quite like to be engineers. Here they are at working you wouldn’t argue:

Can you see any lack of talent? No. I am very aware that Oakdene are a very proactive school with aspirations. They engage with employers regularly and certainly use the events here as a backbone of activity to integrate with that. Looking at the new OfSTED framework they are clearly addressing the cultural and social capital requirements already. If that is what is happening then the symptoms are what I saw today.

Pics of the teams and boats are below, well done to every team….even the ones who er….sank!

Girls are better engineers than boys!

Well that has to be the conclusion I am afraid.

We have run the STEM boats event countless times this year and yet again a team of girls has produced the fastest boat on the day. This was the first time we had run the event with KS1 and the brilliant children from Brambles, Layfield and Saltburn worked tirelessly from start to finish to produce effective sail boats. Yes we had a huge focus on team work throughout the day and yes we did some scientific method to test different shapes and sizes of sails, but the winning times were just as good as any other pupils we have had from Y1 – Y9! Growing research (and common sense if you ask any teacher!) will tell you that attitude is everything when trying to achieve both at school and in life generally. These types of days do not focus on curriculum, targets or test scores. They are solely focussed on giving the pupils the opportunity to develop the skills and attitudes they will need in most of their adult working life. Engaging children to want to have a great future through the right attitude has more of an influence on how well they will do than anything else. From what I have seen today they will have some very successful careers ahead of them if they continue to work with the attitude that they showed.

The images below shows just how focussed, organised and determined the children were when working on their boats and testing them:

And the teams ready to race!

And the winning times!


Code Kings and Queens

Astounding. I think that probably sums them up best. The brilliant pupils from Hillsview, Brambles Primary and Acklam Whin have been simply astounding.

‘Here are some robots that I want you to tell a story with. Oh and they have to follow a complex map to tell their story. Oh and you have less than 4 hours to learn the software, try out solutions to the challenge and create a coherent programme.’ And boy did they do this! Sometimes we find that these longer challenges can have a few children flagging bit during the afternoon, losing focus and becoming a bit lost. Well that certainly didn’t happen today, In fact I reckon most of them would keep this up all week if they got the chance….and they would be very welcome to. Particularly of note was the concentration levels shown by some of the girls today. I recently filmed in a lot of coding/digital type businesses and one thing they all told me was that they wanted more female employees but they just didn’t get the applications. Well I can assure them that the future is bright, really bright and Middlesbrough’s continuing growth as a Digital Hub is in very safe hands.

The pictures below say it all but there will also be some videos of their programming in action later today.

Below is a compilation of the final attempts to run the course. None of the groups had been allowed to test drive the course during the day, many had recreated it using masking tape or rolls of paper as test tracks. Despite the difference in the floor texture and the fact that it takes about two and a half minutes for at the complete programme to complete the course we actually had some get all the way to the end. Amazing stuff. Even though not everyone did, they knew where they had gone wrong and every single one of them could be heard muttering how they could correct it as they went back to their seats. They REALLY understood what they had been learning.

The final attempts are now below:

Raising Young Aspirations

Oh I so much look forward to these sorts of days. The evidence for the huge impact that events like these has on these children’s future success in their careers is growing week by week. The latest being a pilot randomised control trial published yesterday (here). It specifically correlates actual rise in grades at GCSE but also details the children attitudes and commitment which anyone who works with businesses knows are the key attributes to getting quality employment.

We had fabulous support as always by a range of companies, individuals and organisations: Nifco, PD Ports, Rolls Royce, Teesside University, NHS, CUBIC, EDF and Pop with his Tesla! He’s actually a doctor but he loves to inspire children about technology. The children from Layfield, Lockwood and Saltburn had such a range of experiences and the evidence tells us that most of them, particularly the ones who find school work a challenge,  will do better in school and in life simply by being part of it. This isn’t changing education by ‘teaching them better’, it is about widening social and cultural capital so that they want to do better.