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HEFA Goes National!

last modified May 26, 2015 11:28 AM
The University of Cambridge is recruiting hundreds of teenagers from across the country to dig up the past and raise their aspirations for the future.

This article originally appeared in the University of Cambridge HE Teachers and HE Advisers' Newsletter May 2015

HEFA Goes National!


The University of Cambridge is recruiting hundreds of teenagers from across the country to dig up the past and raise their aspirations for the future.

Led by Dr Carenza Lewis of Time Team fame, The Higher Education Field Academy (HEFA) has already transformed 5,000 state school pupils in the East of England into budding archaeologists and aspiring university researchers. Now the University has decided to roll the programme out to the rest of the country, and is inviting schools to apply to join the 2016 digging season (March – July).

Over the last ten years, HEFA has become one of the University’s most successful Widening Participation projects, raising the aspirations, enthusiasm and attainment of thousands of 14-17 year-olds, as well as inspiring their teachers. Of the 521 learners who attended HEFA in 2012-13, 96% rated their experience ‘excellent’ or ‘good’, while more than 80% completed the course with new skills and feeling more positive about applying to university.

Working in small mixed-school groups, HEFA recruits spend two days running their own archaeological excavation (a 1m2 test pit) in a local village, where they get the chance to unearth history for the first time. Their discoveries are used, like clues from a crime scene, to reconstruct the development of settlements and population change over time.

Dr Lewis comments, ‘Our young investigators have found everything from Stone Age tools to medieval pottery and even human skeletons. That moment of discovery is a real adrenalin rush and our diggers make a genuine contribution to the university's research into the historic development of rural communities and the impact of events such as the Black Death.’

Day Three of the HEFA programme is spent at the University of Cambridge analysing the excavations in group sessions which help participants to produce a written analysis for assessment.

Crucially, HEFA promotes learning through archaeology rather than just about archaeology, and therefore benefits students interested in all avenues of university study. The programme offers an inspiring taste of life and learning at university level and develops a wide range of transferrable knowledge and skills (including verbal communication, structured working, creative thinking, reflective learning, persistence, team working, data analysis and report writing) as well as boosting academic confidence. During the course, participants are encouraged to think about their ambitions for the future and to maintain contact with the University of Cambridge afterwards to help them realise their aims.

The HEFA programme is endorsed by the University of Cambridge and the OCR exam board in recognition of the level of cross-curricular challenge it offers young people to achieve in three distinct areas (1) practical fieldwork, (2) personal, learning and thinking skills and (3) data analysis and report writing. Participants receive detailed feedback in recognition of their attainment in each of these areas which are of considerable value in supporting their future application to university, enabling them to demonstrate major achievement across a wide range of skills.

HEFA is aimed at pupils (School Years 9-12) at the top of the academic ability range (capable of achieving eight or more GCSE’s at Grade B or above), one of its key objectives being to raise admissions from the state sector to leading universities. Schools interested in taking part should contact Access Cambridge Archaeology on by midday on Tuesday 30 June.

More information about HEFA can be found here.