HEFAs are three day courses, aimed at learners in school years 9, 10 and 12, which give them the chance to develop new learning and personal skills and build their enthusiasm and confidence for Higher Education as they run their own small-scale field project unearthing and interpreting new evidence as part of a research programme on the origins and development of Currently Occupied Rural Settlements (CORS) at the University of Cambridge.
Participants spend two days working in mixed-school teams digging an archaeological test-pit within living villages, and then visit the University of Cambridge to analyse the excavation results, prepare to produce a written report and experience university life and learning for themselves. The programme was established by Dr Carenza Lewis, Director of Access Cambridge Archaeology (ACA), in 2005 and nearly 3500 students have taken part since. The programme is an opportunity for students to work and think at a higher level and across conventional subject boundaries, while becoming familiar, positive and confident with the University of Cambridge, its people and its application process.
HEFA was originally developed in collaboration with the government-funded university access scheme, Aimhigher, but after its closure in 2011, ACA successfully bid for support from the University of Cambridge Widening Participation Fund for 2012-2015 in recognition of its track record of raising educational aspirations and achievements. In order to identify high-achieving learners who will benefit from the experience and with the potential to apply to a top Russell Group university such as Cambridge, participant places are recruited for by a network of ‘Beacon Schools’ to raise the academic achivement of young people in the area and liase with neighbouring schools.
In spring and summer 2014, ACA will be running 13 field academies which will include test-pit digging in three new settlements: Rampton (Cambridgeshire) at the invitation of the Fen Edge Archaeology Group, Riseley (Bedfordshire) at the invitation of the Riseley Historical Society and Sawtry (Cambridgeshire) at the invitation of Sawtry History Society. The HEFA season will begin with ACA’s 7th visit to the Essex village of Writtle, south-west of Chelmsford next week.
Fourteen HEFAs were run in 2013, and of the 521 students who attended from 49 schools, a fantastic 97% rated HEFA as ‘Excellent’ or ‘Good’. After HEFA, 77% of students felt more confident about trying something new; 82% felt more positive about staying in education after Year 11; 83% felt more positive about going to university, and 89% felt they knew more about what life at university would be like.
Here are some feedback quotes from HEFA participants in 2013:
“It was fun and enjoyable, it was also nice to meet new people and have the opportunity to come to Cambridge University, have lunch, meet students, and work with the team professionally.” CC, NWA/13
“Thank you to everyone who made this possible and gave me and the others this opportunity. It has given me such a confidence boost to know my teachers thought I was capable of such an important and high-level task so thank you! :-)” JB, DHE/13
“I am very pleased I came on this trip, and think it was a great opportunity, especially learning about Cambridge University.” BS, BIN/13
School staff also gave very high praise for the opportunity:
“It was a delight to see how well the students rose to the challenges of the digging and to see their faces light up as they had a tour of the Colleges!” KB, LME/13
“The way the project has been developed for the students allows them the freedom to try new things and meet new people. Working in groups with different schools has also given them the opportunity to experience an aspect of university learning.” KF, MAN/13
A number of new settlements were drawn into the HEFA programme in 2013: Stapleford (Cambridgeshire), Walberswick (Suffolk), Daws Heath (Essex), Great Amwell (Herts), and North Warnborough (Hampshire). In addition, HEFA excavations also took place in villages where ACA had previously carried out test pit excavations as part of other, non-HEFA, projects, Swaffham Bulbeck (Cambridgeshire) and Long Melford (Suffolk). Highlights in 2013 included the first discovery in Essex of significant quantities of Saxo-Norman Thetford ware, which was found in two pits near the church at Manuden (Essex). Essex rural settlements tend to produce no material of this date, so this is a significant discovery. It was therefore interesting to also find Thetford ware associated with a post hole in a test pit excavated in 2013 at Long Melford. This lies very close to the Essex border in Suffolk and had also previously produced no material of this date. Another particularly interesting discovery was in Walberswick, where, unusually, all the test pits produced medieval pottery and there was no sign of any later medieval decline.
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