Over four thousand students have participated in Access Cambridge Archaeology’s (ACA) flagship outreach programme in the past decade. Higher Education Field Academies (HEFAs) aim to raise the educational aspirations of secondary school students in Years 9-12 by providing the opportunity to acquire, develop and demonstrate new skills, experience and confidence by completing, from start to finish, a unique archaeological investigation as part of a research programme at the University of Cambridge.
This year, 529 students from 52 schools attended 13 field academies between mid-March and mid-July 2014. Each HEFA takes place over 3 days with participants spending the first two days in a rural location working in mixed-school teams on their own archaeological ‘test pit’ excavation. The third day then brings them into the University of Cambridge to assess the results of the excavations, visit and dine in one of the university colleges, and find out more about applying to university. After the three days of excavation and the university visit are completed, participants are encouraged to to produce a written report recroding and analysing their excavation for assessment by the University of Cambridge.
The 2014 HEFA test pit excavations took place in Writtle (Essex) and Acle (Norfolk) in March; Rampton (Cambs) and Walberswick (Suffolk) in April; Sawtry (Cambs), Garboldisham (Norfolk) in May; Daws Heath (Essex), Long Melford (Suffolk), Great Amwell (Herts) and North Warnborough (Hants) in June; and Hindringham (Norfolk), Riseley (Beds) and Manuden (Essex) in July. This summer, the HEFA participants dug 131 test pits, with an extra one dug in Acle by students and staff of a special educational needs school, and another 4 excavated by members of the local historical societies in Writtle, Daws Heath and Riseley. Altogether, approximately 1815 archaeological ‘test pit’ excavations have been dug as part of ACA’s research into the origins and development of Currently Occupied Rural Settlements (CORS). This total includes test pits dug under the HEFA widening participation programme with secondary school students, as well as those dug by volunteers as part of community heritage projects.
All participants are asked to complete feedback forms at the end of the 3 day HEFA course, and forms were received back from 97% of the 2014 cohort. The feedback for the 2014 HEFAs is very positive and remarkably similar to that for 2013 showing a consistently high level of programme delivery. The metric and anecdotal feedback demonstrates that HEFA is making an impact on participants’ consideration of top Russell Group universities as well as the University of Cambridge, while HEFA participation can be seen to significantly raise students’ confidence in their education, and bolster their confidence in their intentions and aspirations.
Feedback from HEFA in 2014 shows very high levels of participant satisfaction, with 95% rating HEFA as ‘Excellent’ or ‘Good’. After HEFA, 77% of students felt more confident about trying something new; 84% felt more positive about going to university, and 89% felt they knew more about what life at university would be like. The number considering applying a top Russell Group university rose by 45% and the number of considering applying to the University of Cambridge rose by 47%.
HEFA feedback forms also provide students and staff with the opportunity to comment on their HEFA experience. Some quotes from these free-text entries have been provided below, as well as examples of the correspondence received from local residents who hosted the test pit excavations.
“This was an amazing experience and I feel I have learned a lot. I have loved this whole activity, especially looking around Cambridge. Digging was great and I really enjoyed it and identifying the pottery etc. we found.” (JR, GAM/14)
“(I have gained) a lot. An experience, knowledge about archaeology and university, friends, advice, a lot!!” (CP, ACL/14)
“Thank you for the skills, knowledge and a wonderful experience that will help me into the future. I have learnt so much and am very grateful for the experience :-)” (ER, WAL/14)
“It was really fun socialising with new people in a way that was really interesting.” (SB, GAR/14)
“I have gained knowledge about archaeology that I didn’t know before and about universities, what they include, subjects and application process.” (AR, SAW/14)
“I feel they have gained a lot more independence in working and learnt new skills. It was particularly useful to see how it plays its part in the wider research project.” (KH, HIN/14)
“A superb experience for our students, well organised and good content. Expectations of students was very high but they rose to the challenge!” (AC, WAL/14)
“Absolutely fantastic and we look forward to next year!” (AV, DHE/14)
“Who would have thought our cottage had some sort of history back to the Bronze Age. The whole dig was well organised, but more important the idea of getting pupils doing ‘hands on’ work has to be applauded. Our thanks to the team.” (MK, NWA/14)
“They did a splendid job with the backfilling. Delightful opportunity – the students were great – a credit to their schools and families. The programme (is) incredibly well organised. Such fun to be part of history!” (Anon, RMP/14)
A summary of the feedback from each HEFA has been included in the news articles published on the ACA website throughout the field season, which you can catch up with here. Following the end of HEFA for 2014, ACA are currently busy processing the finds and writing up the results of this year’s test pits, as well as marking and returning the written assignments submitted by students. ACA have met with the HEFA Beacon Schools, responsible for recruiting students to take part, about plans for next year and anticipate confirming the 2015 schedule in the autumn.
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