34 primary school children from West Cumbria were given the rare opportunity of presenting their work to students and lecturers at the University of Oxford’s Jesus College.

The visit was arranged as the exciting culmination of an eight-week, fun-filled Schools of the Future programme run by The React Foundation, the charitable organisation of Cumbria-based React Engineering set up to raise the aspirations of young people and inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers.

A team of engineers from React volunteered their time to share their professional expertise with Year 5 and 6 pupils and challenged them to design what their school could look like in 50 years. As part of the project, the schoolchildren had to design and bring to life several ideas for their futuristic school and present their project to Oxford University lecturers and students.

Bella, a Year 6 pupil, said: “The experience of visiting the university was a chance in a lifetime and not many 10 and 11 year olds get to go to the University of Oxford and get to 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.”

Primary school pupils inspired as they present their work at University of Oxford
St Patrick’s Primary School pupils present their Schools of the Future project to students and lecturers at the University of Oxford

Year 5 pupil Mackenzie added: “It was really cool and the hall we stayed in was really smart. I wanted to be a footballer but now I want to go to Oxford University!”

Accompanying the children on the trip were two teaching representatives from each school – and they had an equally great time.

Jean Gillson, a teacher at St Patrick’s, said: “This was a fantastic opportunity for our children who otherwise would have never had the chance to dream big and realise that university is an option for them in the future. 

“The children were challenged to draw what they thought an Oxford student was like and we had a variety of characters. After discussions, they realised that anyone can become an Oxford student – even them. 

“All our pupils thoroughly enjoyed the project task, meeting new people and challenging themselves by sleeping in student accommodation.”

Pupils at Montreal CofE Primary School present their Schools for the Future designs to students and lecturers at the University of Oxford

Lindsay Burnett, the headteacher at Montreal, added: “The Oxford University trip was an amazing experience for our children, and we saw their confidence grow before our eyes. 

“They developed their speaking and listening skills and had the opportunity to problem solve and plan their project with the graduates from React and you could see the pride they had in their project as they presented to the students at Jesus College.

“The children loved the visit to the university to learn what life would be like as an Oxford student – they were so inspired by the lectures we attended and their self-belief grew as they realised they could one day be part of such a wonderful institution. 

“I cannot thank The React Foundation enough for offering us such a brilliant opportunity.”

Primary school pupils inspired as they present their work at University of Oxford
Children at St Joseph’s Primary School take a break from their busy trip to the University of Oxford

During their visit, the children stayed in student accommodation at Jesus College for two nights and enjoyed visits to nearby attractions.

On the more educational side of the trip, they sat through lectures, took part in a bridge building competition and then presented their Schools of the Future presentations to university students.

Kyle Hannah, one of the programme organisers, was impressed with the aptitude and enthusiasm of all the pupils who were involved in the programme.

He said: “Travelling across the country to stay in an unfamiliar city was a daunting experience for many of the pupils, but the engagement, attitude and infectious energy of all involved blew us all away.

“They all showed what great skills they have to offer the world, and this was a great way of showing them what opportunities lie ahead in the future. The trip empowered them to take control of their own future and map out what they want to do.

“The past two years have been challenging because of Covid-19 and have removed the opportunity for the pupils to develop life skills outside of the classroom, and being a part of the Schools of the Future programme has provided a great experience that all involved will never forget.”

The React Foundation, founded in 2004 to mark the 10th anniversary of React Engineering, 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 Foundation was awarded The Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service, the equivalent to an MBE for UK volunteer groups, and it has inspired more than 75,000 young people since its formation.

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Nisha Kotecha is the Founder of Good News Shared. Having worked and volunteered for charities in the UK for over 10 years, Nisha is on a mission to highlight how amazing charities are.

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