In this kind of hot and humid weather it’s just as hot inside as outside and so why not get digging?! 39 pupils as well as 11 6th form students and their teachers joined us for a two- day dig at East Rudham. Students came from Fakenham Academy, Alderman Peel High School, Cromer Academy, Litcham High School and Thomas Clarkson Academy and were all a credit to their schools, displaying determination to dig as well as making insightful remarks about the history of the village and the archaeological process.
We were again based at St Mary’s Church and we were very grateful for it’s medieval air conditioning system (read: thick stone walls). Alison Dickens, manager of Access Cambridge Archaeology welcomed the mixed year 9, 10 and 12 students, explaining how the next three days would work practically, and also what the pupil’s could hope to achieve. The ILAFS programme is designed to inspire pupils on to higher education, by giving them the skills to take control of their own learning, giving them an experience of learning outside the classroom and boosting their confidence by seeing themselves achieve at a task completely new to them. The Day 1 talk sets them up for this, by explaining not only the practical skills of excavations, but also the key ideas to start interpreting the archaeology they discover. When a student find their first piece of pottery, or fragment of metalwork, we try to get them to think about what it could mean more widely. Where was the object made? What can it tell us about trade, status, access routes, in the past? Was this an agricultural, or manufacturing area? How has the natural landscape influenced the activities in the area?
This is the second time we have dug in East Rudham and our 10th ILAFS of the year. The previous report can be found here. A map showing where this year’s test pits were located can be found there- most were group in a field close to a medieval moated site and within sight of another church in the village. A 6th form student from Fakenham Academy supervised each test pit, helping students to organise themselves, stepping in to motivate the team and assessing the younger students. These are all very valuable skills to have in the workplace and at university and is a highly useful experience to have when writing their university applications in the next few months. Teachers and members of the ACA team also toured the village checking in on students and giving the benefit of their archaeological knowledge. Despite the incredible heat on Day 1 the teams were soon discovering finds for the first time and by the end of Day 1 we already had a number of test pits who had found medieval pottery. All the test pits were close by to known areas of anglo-saxon settlement so it would be interesting to see if they found supporting evidence. Jo Stone, our Beacon School co-ordinator was very excited when she spotted a lovely piece of 11th century pottery which included a thumbprint, part of the decoration of the pot it came from. Another test pit found the complete end of a clay pipe which by its size probably dates to the 17th century. Other interesting finds included a button, coins and building materials which together suggest changing uses of the area as it is now a field and was previously common land. I will look forward to reading the student’s reports interpreting their findings.
The third day of ILAFS is always spent in Cambridge, pulling together the students’ knowledge and ideas in preparation for writing their reports but more importantly giving them a taste of what it is like to learn and live at university. A clear, set out talk on what to write is very valuable as as GCSE coursework has now been dropped, this is one of the few opportunities students have to write and gain feedback on a long piece of their own research, prior to A levels. We hope that the skills they learn from completing the report will stay with them, and give them an advantage when working independently. At this age is it easy to see GCSEs- your first big exam – as completely deciding your future but hopefully we can show the students that there is life beyond year 11. Archaeology won’t be for many of them, but hopefully the skills they learnt of motivating others (despite rain and clay soils), planning their work and time and academic skills will give them a great start to their futures. During lunch at Clare college, a member of the admissions team for Cambridge there highlighted to the students how much of a useful experience ILAFS is. It demonstrates to universities that you have not just passively been along on a trip, but taken it through to completion, putting in much time and effort to achieve that. Trinity and Christ’s colleges also took students for lunch and a tour so that ILAFS pupils could see how university students live as well as work.
After lunch, while the younger students were at their session in the museum, Emma Smith, Schools Liaison Officer at Homerton College took the year 12 students for a session designed for them. Together they looked at personal statements, working through examples and pointing out areas which are of interest to universities. Personal Statements are a key part of the admissions process but for many it is the first time they have had to ‘sell themselves’ and their skills. Pointers on what to highlight are therefore useful, not only for UCAS applications but also in job applications.
Being in the surroundings of the University of Cambridge also hopefully inspires the students who are just deciding their futures. We had some great feedback from the students for this session which we try to offer to any older ILAFS participant. “I enjoyed the personal statement session as it gave great insight into the types of criteria universities look for in this part of the application.” GG Fakenham College. “I have gained and developed skills that will help me to show evidence of these skills such as leadership and verbal communication skills as well as working successfully in a team.” MK Fakenham college.
Younger students were just as positive about their experience. “It was informing and very helpful in terms of helping me decide my future.”CY Litcham High School. “I really enjoyed visiting the university. It really inspired me to work even harder so I might one day study here. … Thanks to the staff for a brilliant experience!” L, Cromer Academy. “[I learnt] that there is more to university than I thought.” JD Thomas Clarkson Academy
Staff highlighted “how by mixing up students from different schools, the students learned how to work quickly and effectively with others, a valuable skill for the workplace.” JS Fakenham Academy. The Field School “also increased their confidence and ability to learn new skills and work independently” (KH Litcham School). Many thanks to Jo Stone from Fakenham for organising the schools to come on the trip and thank you to all the staff and students who came!