Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Children's University response to report stating after-school clubs boost poorer pupils' results

by Helen O’Donnell, CEO Children’s University

This morning the BBC reported that after-school clubs and sports can improve the academic performance and social skills of disadvantaged primary school pupils. To me, and the network of 1,000 schools that the Children’s University works with in delivering many of these clubs, this is not news; this is simply our reason for doing what we do. 

To see the impact of teachers and out-of-school learning backed up by findings of researcher from NatCen Social Research, Newcastle University and ASK Research is incredibly encouraging and a reinforcement of why the work of Children’s University is vital.

What we do is simple. We work in partnership with teachers, schools and learning destinations all across the UK and beyond. We issue participating children a Passport to Learning, which is stamped just like a regular passport whenever they participate in activities at after-school classes and quality assured learning destinations. These destinations include wildlife centres, zoos, libraries and places of historical interest. Anywhere that children can learn and take part in beneficial activities can partner with us a learning destination – the list is constantly growing.

By joining the Children’s University, learning stops being something that’s contained in a classroom, and becomes something that happens anywhere and everywhere. Our work joins the dots between the classroom, museums, after school clubs, sports centres and more. Crucially, they bring back the joy to learning, boost self-confidence and, as today’s report shows, improve academic attainment.

Over 100,000 children hold one of our passports so today’s report has a huge impact on our work. Here at the Children’s University we’ve been saying for a long time that after-school activities are vital. As the Nuffield Foundation-funded report states, "More research is needed to understand the content of the after-school clubs and what it is about the experience that results in improved outcomes.". I’ll raise my head above the parapet and say now that we invite and welcome research into the impact of our work. The Children’s University network is a highly skilled and committed network and anything that shows the worth of their work is great by me.


Wednesday, 13 January 2016

York’s ‘CU in the City’ events – From superheroes to super snails!

Good afternoon all,

Last week, we brought you the first of a two-part post from York CU's Lucy Horsman. In that post, Lucy told us all about some of the activities made available to children at York's 'CU in the City' event last year. This time around...well, the title says it all really! Take it away, Lucy!:

York Children’s University were busy in late November running seven ‘CU in the City’ family learning events and in our first blog post we covered drama, Tansy beetles and science! For the remaining events we were joined by our partners from the University of York’s Psychology Department, Flamingo Land Resorts, and student-led creative writing group Inkwell.

The Psychology department hosted ‘Did I really see that?’ where neither children nor adults could believe their eyes! With hands-on experiments and mind-boggling illusions, the session really brought learning to life. A popular hit with the children was the magic chair that made the grown-ups shrink and children grow!

We had another evening of creative-writing fun with Inkwell, and as usual it went down a storm. Our resident superhero Ellie was on hand to help children make up their very own superhero stories and the adults even had a go as well! It was lovely to see parents and children working together, proving that leaning doesn’t stop, no matter what your age. One parent mentioned, “When the children do similar things in school I don’t get to see it, so it’s lovely to be a part of their learning”. Seven year old Rose also commented how she found the creative writing “really exciting” and can’t wait to get writing more.

Our final session was hosted by one of our newest partners, Flamingo Land. A huge range of artefacts were explored, from skulls to skins to real life mini-beasts! We tackled all sorts of questions from ‘why do snakes shed their skins?’ to ‘why do deer have antlers?’ in a quiz, and some children even had a go at handling giant African snails and giant stick insects – it was not for the faint-hearted!

Our CU in the City events are increasingly popular in York and allow staff at York CU a rare opportunity to meet some of the families involved in the scheme. Their enthusiasm for learning is infectious and it makes us want to run more and more events! Next up will be some events in June to tie in with the University of York’s ‘Festival of Ideas’, themed this year around Tick-Tock! Watch this space!

To find out more about York CU and their fantastic Learning Destinations, head to their website.
CU next time,


Wednesday, 6 January 2016

York’s ‘CU in the City’ events – Full of drama, bugs and interactive science!

Happy New Year one and all and welcome to 2016!

Last year was one of great change and progress across the Children's University network. Excitingly, we saw local CUs hosting their own learning events alongside those provided by traditional Learning Destinations. To showcase just one of these amazing events, Lucy Horsman, an intern at York CU, has written a couple of posts about York's project, 'CU in the City'. Without further ado, I'll hand over to Lucy for Part 1:

At York Children’s University we’re very proud of our project ‘CU in the City’, which runs in conjunction with the passport scheme. ‘CU in the City’ provides a unique range of free events that combine learning with real life experiences, all of which are hosted by our fantastic partners from local enterprises, student volunteers and academics from the University of York. The aim of the events is to give children another opportunity to earn those beloved stickers, whilst learning in new and creative ways with their families alongside them.

We ran six events through the end of November, so let’s get started with ‘Express Yourself’, a creative drama workshop with York Theatre Royal, ‘It’s a Bug Life’ with Buglife environmental charity, and ‘Science to make your hair stand on end!’ with University of York Physics Department.

York Theatre Royal kicked off our first event, ‘Express Yourself’, in the beautiful De Grey ballroom at the Theatre Royal. This was a drama session all about expression and encouraging parents and children to grow in confidence and gain some great improvisational and physical theatre skills! With plenty of high energy activities and team work, it was lovely to see parents and children spending time learning and having fun together.

Next we learnt all about York’s very own beetle, the tiny Tansy, with the Buglife charity and made ‘bug hotels’ with all the bits of twigs and foliage we could find. Six year old Francesca said “Learning that York has its own bug was the best bit!” and seven year old Maisie agreed, “it was lots of fun!”

Our third event took us to University of York for a real science lecture, with plenty of exciting experiments including balloons, a Van de Graaff generator, magnets and liquid nitrogen - even the adults were on the edge of their seats! The experiments were such a success that one little boy even asked at the end of the session, “Daddy, can we get some liquid nitrogen?” Definitely a future scientist in the making!

We were delighted by the positive feedback from parents and children, particularly the parent who said, “the children don’t even realise they’re learning” – surely a great advert for Children’s University! Stay tuned for Part 2 (arriving next week), including illusions, giant snails and superheroes - not all in the same event…!

CU next time,


Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Eastern Promise: CU China opens its doors for the first time

Hi everyone,

A very special branch of Children’s University opened its doors for the first time in November 2015. What makes this one special I hear you ask? Well, this Children’s University is in China!

Run by Mark Upton (who we owe thanks for providing the images and information featured in this post), CU China has opened first of all in Ningbo, a large city a three-hour drive south of Shanghai. Their first Passport To Learning holders come from a bilingual school called HD Ningbo School. These children will soon be reaching out to students in other less privileged schools, allowing the children to enjoy joint visits to Learning Destinations and shared learning opportunities.

CU China have also, this month, begun pre-launch activities in Shanghai ahead of an exciting 2016! Shanghai is a city with a population of 23 million, so there’s plenty to do!

There are already a number of schools in both Ningbo and Shanghai interested in setting up joint-learning video links with children in UK schools currently involved in Children's University. It is hoped that this will build upon a pilot video created by children in China and Coventry last year.

“So,” says Mark, “if you know of a school keen to link up then please do get in touch and we can get going! These exciting joint international CU video learning links are quite easy to arrange - early morning at school in [the] UK is late afternoon here in China - perfect!”

There is a real respect and love of learning built into China's culture. As such, it's really exciting that we’re now getting to see how Children's University can play its part in using this to offer learning opportunities outside of the classroom. I’m sure you’ll agree, there are exciting times ahead – who knows what 2016 may hold!

CU soon!


Monday, 9 November 2015

Welcome our new CEO, Helen!

Hi everyone,

On 5th November 2015, Helen O'Donnell joined the Children's University family as our new CEO and Director of Partnerships. Helen's arrival allows Lynne and Mary to return to their original roles as 'Head of CU Learning Support and Development' and 'Chief Executive of CU Scotland' respectively, having worked together to act as CEO for the past few months.

Below, you can read a little bit about Helen and her past roles and achievements. Exciting times lie ahead!

Prior to joining the Children’s University Helen was Chief Executive of Cheshire Community Foundation, an independent charity whose main mission is to improve the quality of life for local people by inspiring local philanthropy and investing in local community activity. In her time with the Foundation she oversaw the investment of £7.5m of donations from individual and corporate philanthropists. She also oversaw the awarding of close to £2m in grants to more than 400 organisations. The Foundation achieved Quality Accreditation by UK Community Foundations and the Charity Commission within 2 years of being established. 

Previously, Helen was Head of Development at the University of Liverpool, where she was responsible for leading the University’s advancement programme ensuring that significant philanthropic investment was secured to support the University’s vision, strategic priorities and academic focus. Before moving to the University she was Development Director at Withington Girls' School in Manchester (her alma mater) where she raised close to £2m for the 100 Plus Bursary Appeal. She began her major donor fundraising career as Development Manager at Wolverhampton Grammar School following an early career in social housing with the Housing Corporation (now the HCA). 

Helen is a member of the Institute of Fundraising and a graduate of Common Purpose and The Leadership Team. In 2015 she was shortlisted in the categories of Not-for-Profit/Social Enterprise Leader of the Year and Inspiring Leader of the Year at the Forward Ladies Women in Business Awards (North West and Isle of Man). She has a degree in Modern Languages and lives in Cheshire with her husband and 3 daughters.

Catch you next time!