Major roll out of University Scheme to help poorer families hit by school closures

Thousands of low-income families in the South have benefitted from a series of activity packs produced by the University of Southampton aimed at helping children whose education was impacted during lockdown. Almost 14,000 individual packs have been distributed via schools, charities, and youth organisations so far this academic year, with the aim to get 18,000 out by the end of the Summer. Initiated by a group of innovative interns working between the Public Engagement with Research unit and the Widening Participation and Social Mobility directorate, the Activity Packs look to address the digital divide exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, with many families and children having no internet or not enough devices to access online teaching.

The latest distribution drive builds on the success of the first phase, where 2,500 individual packs were distributed at the end of the previous academic year. The packs are categorised as follows:

  • Nutriskills packs – bundles of four different packs containing activities, recipes for healthy meals, and collectible cards;
  • Top Trumps Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) packs – everything required to make Top Trumps-style cards based on women working in STEM disciplines, in order to consider STEM career paths and learn more about women’s journies into science;
  • Science and Engineering packs – developed especially for the 2021 Southampton Science and Engineering Festival Goes Digital, with a mix of previous packs and other activities from festival partners such as Winchester Science Centre and the National Space Centre;
  • Hospital Heist packs – aimed at secondary school children and designed to engage them with forensic science, providing all resources necessary to analyse fibres, lift fingertips, or test materials for residue;
  • Arts & Crafts packs – aimed at primary school children, designed to engage their creativity, with arts and crafts resources and ideas for activities;
  • Outdoor Learning packs – aimed at primary school children, the packs are designed to spark their interest in the outdoors, containing various resources and activities, from making a bird feeder to growing cress seeds.

The Nutriskills, Top Trumps Women in STEM, and Science and Engineering packs have already been distributed to 50 institutions and 56 further individual households, and further packs will be distributed by the beginning of the summer holidays, aiming to provide new ways for children to learn outside school. Working with so many institutions locally and nationally in this project will help the University build and develop partnerships to understand how it can use its people and resources to support local communities.

To help distribute the Activity Packs to various schools and foster carers, the University of Southampton has worked with the Southampton Violence Reduction Unit and Southampton City Council. Chris Brown, Violence Reduction Manager at Southampton City Council comments: “These activity packs are a great example of finding new and engaging ways to help support the health and wellbeing of young people. The team at the University of Southampton have put in tremendous effort to put these together so it’s great to see how popular they have been. Thank you to everyone involved.”

Sophie Ford, Manager of Southampton Hub, one of the charities actively involved in helping with Activity Packs distribution, adds that “at Southampton Hub, we have given these packs directly to the young people we work with in the city, as well as sending them out through our partner schools. The young people (and their parents/carers) have been delighted by the activities and resources included in the packs, one carer said: “I just had a nose in the activity packs, I am blown away by the tasks!” School closures and the restrictions on extracurricular activities have been extremely difficult for families, and these packs have provided accessible opportunities for them to continue to have fun, try new things and learn in their own homes.”

Maria Anderson, Headteacher of the Southampton Virtual School and College within the Southampton City Council also remarks: “Thank you so much for the packs! The speed and distribution of delivery really helped supplement the education offer for our children, it was nice to be able to offer something ‘real’ rather than something else online. The packs covered a range of topics and sustained interest for our children. The project also enabled our children to feel valued, people from university were helping them with their education. Amazing, please keep this going.”

Josette Crispin and Holly Smeeton, the University of Southampton students and interns who created and developed the Activity Packs more than a year ago commented on the packs: “We’ve both loved the experience of creating the activity packs! It’s been great working with a range of different school and charity partners and seeing the Southampton community come together to create an amazing project! We’ve been delighted with the feedback we’ve received so far, and it’s been amazing seeing the difference the packs are making in supporting students!”

Source: University of Southampton

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European Higher Education Organization is a public organization carrying out academic, educational and information activities on higher education in Europe.

The EHEO general plan stresses that:

  • Higher education systems require adequate funding and, as an investment in economic growth, public spending in higher education should be protected.
  • The challenges faced by higher education require more flexible governance and funding systems, which balance greater autonomy for education institutions with accountability to stakeholders.

Thus, EHEO plans:

  • improve academic and scientific interaction of universities;
  • protect the interests of universities;
  • interact more closely with public authorities of European countries;
  • popularize European higher education in the world;
  • develop academic mobility;
  • seek funding for European universities.