The sky’s the limit for schoolchildren in Newcastle, Northumberland and North Tyneside, who will be treated to views of the universe.

Astronomers from Kielder Observatory are taking their new, portable planetarium on tour to provide science week experiences for pupils. They expect to run star gazing shows and workshops for up to 10,000 children over the next three years, thanks to funds from the North of Tyne Combined Authority (NTCA).

North of Tyne Mayor Jamie Driscoll said inspiring STEM learning was a key goal of the new Combined Authority. “Kids have such great natural curiosity – and that’s the foundation of science, technology and engineering,” he said. “The more we can fire their enthusiasm for a career in these industries, the stronger our future economy will be.”

North of Tyne Mayor Jamie Driscoll in an allotment

North of Tyne Mayor Jamie Driscoll

Kielder Observatory won £240,000 funds from the NTCA STEM and Digital Skills Programme to inspire primary and secondary aged children with science. School visits from the Kielder Observatory Education Team will involve two experienced astronomers providing planetarium and workshops for Key Stage 1 to Key Stage 5 from Monday to Thursday. Each course of workshops will be tailored to the needs of the school, covering content within the National Curriculum as well as extracurricular content to inspire further STEM learning.

Cllr Wayne Daley, NTCA Cabinet Member for Education Improvement, said: “The mission of Kielder Observatory is to ‘inspire, enthuse and educate’, and this project will allow its wonderful, award winning staff to further achieve these aims. Inspiring STEM careers is key to the ambition of the combined authority. I’m delighted we’re going to be able to give up to 10,000 children a year this once-in-a-lifetime and very North of Tyne science week experience.”

Cllr Wayne Daley is the NTCA lead for education improvement

Cllr Wayne Daley

NTCA has allocated £1.25m over three years in projects to inspire more young people to develop the skills to pursue science, technology, engineering and maths related careers.

Kielder Observatory science communicator Adam Shore said: “The primary aspect of the school programme is the use of our portable planetarium. Inside the inflatable dome, the stunning night skies of Kielder Observatory can be brought into school halls or gyms. When speaking to guests up at the observatory, often it is the first time for them seeing a truly dark sky far from light pollution.

Whilst I’m certain everyone has an innate sense of curiosity when it comes to the universe, it’s not often that it’s able to be satiated. By peering through a telescope however, it helps to put things in perspective. You can observe other worlds that humans one day may be able to explore, or see detailed structure in galaxies made out of hundreds of billions of stars that are at an unimaginable astronomical distance. Either way, the sheer scale of our universe is something to inspire awe. It’s important to feed this curiosity in children, since this is the next generation of scientists and researchers to develop new technology.”

Kielder Observatory

Kielder Observatory

As part of the project, Kielder Observatory will provide the schools with an astronomy kit including a telescope and related materials, as well as access to a bespoke educational website. Then, a follow up visit to each school will be arranged to provide training to make the most of these resources. So far, eight schools have signed up to the scheme.

In November, the Kielder Observatory team will be at Marden Bridge Middle School and Longbenton High School in North Tyneside, and Bellingham Middle School and Morpeth Chantry Middle School in Northumberland. In December, they will visit Ashington Academy and St Joseph’s Middle School Hexham, in Northumberland, and in February, at St Cuthbert’s Catholic High School in Newcastle. They visited pupils at Meadowdale Academy in Bedlington, Northumberland, in October.

Kielder Observatory is situated in the heart of the Northumberland International Dark Sky Park, which is one of Europe’s largest area of protected night sky at 572 square miles. This year has been an extremely busy one for staff and volunteers at the Kielder Observatory and its outreach programme. More than 19,000 people visited the Observatory between September 2018 and August 2019, an increase of 22% in the number of events and a 13% increase in visitor numbers this year. It is estimated that around 85% of the UK population has never seen a truly dark sky or experienced a clear night filled with billions of stars.

To have the Kielder Observatory team visit your school, contact or call (0191) 2116604 or (0191) 2774721

Man looking through a telescope at the starry sky

The Kielder Observatory Astronomical Society and the Woodhorn Charitable Trust were chosen to share a combined £635,000 grant from the combined authority to help encourage more young people to choose a career in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

Woodhorn will use its £395,000 to work with 15 to 20 first and primary schools to explore STEM subjects and careers, create a STEM club for 20 children aged 7-11 at the Woodhorn Museum in summer 2021, and deliver three short programmes for secondary schools on digital careers. The Kielder project will receive £240,000 to enable up to 10,000 children and young people each year to take part in school-based science week experiences when they will be taught by members of the observatory team and experience its portable planetarium.