What does literacy have to do with science? Launch of the ‘Year of Science’


What does literacy have to do with science? Two of our Foundation Centre staff, Alison McManus and Simon Rees, are involved in a large-scale project to explore this topic. Working alongside colleagues from the School of Education, this September they launched the Year of Science, a year-long programme of events to raise the profile of science whilst linking it to other aspects of the primary curriculum in County Durham.

There is a pressing need for increasing the profile of science and aligning scientific inquiry within the context of other core subjects, particularly as the National Curriculum now places greater emphasis on teacher-assessment of science. Moreover, it is important that teachers recognise the significance of science as a core subject and are able to make cross-curricular links.

Science is too often relegated to third place in schools’ priorities, but by making strong links with literacy its position may be enhanced. Students who prefer one subject over another will be more engaged through the use of overlapping topics and cross-curricular links. Having said that, the teaching of science should be more than just coverage through other topics taught in the curriculum, so the launch event helped to uncover methods for teaching scientific thinking as well as will emphasising ways in which science and literacy can be taught and learned in a symbiotic way.

The launch event was a Teacher Training Inset day for the Peterlee Partnership (http://www.peterleepartnership.org.uk/ ) with 34 schools in East Durham taking part. The event was led by Durham University’s School of Education in conjunction with the Peterlee Partnership and involved sessions on the use of debates, developing students’ questioning and critical thinking skills. The keynote address was given by Lord Robert Winston, doctor, scientist and television presenter.  His presentation was engaging and thoughtful, encouraging teachers within the Partnership to think carefully about the value of both science and language.

Simon and Alison presented a model debate and led a discussion on whether or not science and literacy can be better taught together. They also dressed up in period costumes and Simon took on the role of nineteenth-century scientist Michael Faraday in order to deliver Faraday’s famous ‘Chemical History of a Candle’ lecture.  This reconstruction was well-received and provided the catalyst for an activity which schools will complete over the coming academic year.  Schools in the Partnership are going to each select a different scientist to feature during some events for children during the year. Suggestions included Charles Darwin, Marie Curie, Guglielmo Marconi, Rosalind Franklin, Albert Einstein, Ada Lovelace, and Steven Hawking, with many schools opting to allow their pupils to choose. This will help broaden the scope of science in schools and create a focus for learning. We look forward to seeing the results later in the school year in a really exciting programme of events.



FAQ’s: Previous FC students share what questions they had before starting their courses

As ever when we start something new, we are brimming with questions about how the next year will unfold, what people might be like, how we’ll manage new challenges, what is expected of us etc. So as a little taster to answer all these questions, students who have completed their foundation year at Durham answer their top questions and share any tips they have for those soon to be joining the foundation centre community.

Will I be able to keep up with the work load?

The Foundation Centre is a great starting point for finding your feet and easing yourself in if you have been out of education for many years but don’t be fooled, you do need to apply yourself in this year too! It really does put you on a good footing for year one.

Will I make friends like me?

Truthfully, yes and no! You will meet like-minded people who you will enjoy spending time with outside of the classroom as well as people who will challenge your way of thinking. Don’t see this as a negative, It does prepare you for the wide mix of people you will meet in year one. Do engage in debates and discussions with others to get a sense of the full perspective available on a subject.

How much work should I be doing in Foundation Centre?

This really is where your own self-awareness is important. You know if you are struggling in a subject or don’t really think you understand something. If this is the case you need to speak to the lecturer who will guide you through where you need to concentrate your efforts or ideally take responsibility for your own learning and read further around the subject. Though I know of people who only attended minimal lectures and still passed I also know students who attended most sessions and struggled. Each person has their own abilities, if you know missing a lecture will put you behind don’t do it. You should commit fully to the Foundation Centre to get the most out of it.

What will my contact hours be like?

The answer to this question will depend on the course you are on, although I would say most courses are at least 3 full days per week 10-5 and maybe a half day. Every Wednesday afternoon across the whole university there are no lectures as this time is reserved for sports and societies. This is a great break in the week, well received by students as a chance to catch up and give your brain a bit of a rest! The foundation program is a year of support and guided learning, whilst teaching you to work independently at the same time. Generally you will have far more contact hours in the foundation centre than the first year of your degree for this reason, which is great as you form close relationships with the staff and your classmates. It also makes it easier to structure your time. The timetable changes between teaching block one (the first term) and teaching block two (the second term), as you get closer to exams so there is more free time for revision and independent learning as you get closer to exams and project deadlines.

What is the level of difficulty like across the year?

Like any new course, and similarly the first year of your degree after the foundation year, the first few weeks are very much focused on getting everyone up to a similar level of knowledge before moving on to more in depth topics. As you would expect the beginning of the year is considerably easier than the second term, the foundation centre aims to prepare you as much as possible for embarking on your degree so it is not simply an easy ride!

If this is a particular area that worries you, I would say a real positive is the team spirit of the small class sizes. There are times when your classmates may understand a concept more naturally than you and will help you and the rest of the class before moving on, and equally there will also be times where you may click on to a topic better than others and it will be your turn to help others. The academic skills module may seem tedious at first but it ensures you have all the skills you need for essay writing/lab reports/ maths/ referencing/ presentation skills or anything else relevant to success in your course.

What is the approximate age range of foundation students?

Well in my class the youngest was 17 and the oldest was 52! Everyone had come from such different backgrounds but all came together with a passion for our subject, the atmosphere was great as we had all chosen to be there and had changed our lives to begin this course. It was so interesting learning about people’s previous careers, families and their journey to starting the course. This versatility may even be my favourite thing about the foundation centre!

Is there anything I can do over the summer to help prepare myself?

Keep updated with the news, media and new ventures in your subject areas as these will be perfect discussion topics for the first few weeks. It is important to keep this up throughout your time at university. Continue to be well read, have a shopping spree of new shiny stationary (sharpies are essential) and other learning materials, a laptop is necessary as even though there are plenty of computers available, these are very busy during exam season. The foundation centre provide a university approved calculator at the start of the year for science students so no need to buy one.

Most importantly relax and enjoy spending time with friends and family before a busy term!


The end of an era. Foundation Centre Director Catherine Marshall is retiring. Students and staff thank Catherine for all her hard work.

Some of you might already know that our Foundation director Catherine Marshall is retiring.

Catherine started working at the Durham University Access Programme run by Adult and Continuing Education in September 1994. She was teaching Biology once a week and got so involved that it turned into a full-time teaching position.

We are all glad that it did. We asked staff and students to tell us about Catherine and here is what they had to say.

Staff – She enjoys teaching, but hates marking. Catherine is a very supportive person who has helped numerous students (and staff) with personal issues. Catherine is a friendly, sociable person and is a proud mother of two strapping young men.

Student – She taught us biology and is diligent as a teacher, she is very qualified. She knew how to transfer her knowledge onto her students.

Student – She is a very good teacher, she will stay and help you understand things until she is sure you get all of it. When I first got here I was terrified and Catherine was the one who made me see that you don’t need to be afraid of your teachers and encouraged me to ask for help. She offered me all the support I needed personally and academically.

Student – Catherine taught me Anatomy and Biology and I loved it. She is a great teacher, and person. She is friendly and supportive.

Student – Catherine is approachable, understanding, and her teaching abilities are really something special. I did A level biology, most of which went over my head, and by the end of my first class with Catherine I had fully understood something I had spent weeks trying to revise at home. Her lessons were fun, she has a great sense of humour and went beyond just that topic for a wider understanding of concepts and general applications. Context makes abstract scientific principles much more interesting!

Student – Catherine is the kind of teacher that inspires your interest and passion for the subject. If I had a teacher like her when I was at school my academic choices would have been so different

Staff – Catherine is the master of the withering stare, which can be intimidating until you realise she is also usually very understanding and forgiving. She has always been particularly understanding about the importance of family, and made sure to extend extra support to staff experiencing family issues, for which I am truly grateful. She also always makes time for people, whether students or staff, and she genuinely cares about both.  

Student – I loved the random advice that we got from her throughout the year. Such as don’t eat polar bear liver, don’t drown in fresh water, and don’t get stabbed in the liver.

Student – She is the best teacher I have ever had. She is so enthusiastic, engaging, and she brings cookies to lessons. Best academic advisor you can wish for.

Student – She is so approachable, understanding and empathetic. I had some personal issues and I came to her for advice. If it wasn’t for her I wouldn’t have completed the Foundation year and proceeded onto my degree.

Student – Catherine was my academic advisor as well as teacher for three of my modules this year. She is so knowledgeable and professional. It feels like she knows the answers to everything, no matter what students asked, she provided an answer. She is also incredible at using different teaching styles and I think that’s why we all enjoy her modules so much. She makes difficult things easy to understand and I think I will remember the DNA cookbook recipe analogy for the rest of my life.

catherine with students



We also asked Catherine some questions:

 What is the best thing about the Foundation Centre?

The students – we only have them for a year, but we get to know them so well and we follow their progress through their degrees, it feels like a huge family that keeps on growing. 

Why is the Foundation Centre so special for you?

I feel very privileged to have been part of so many journeys; to feel that I have been able to facilitate students progressing and being able to access an education that would otherwise not be available to them is an honour.

Why are you leaving/what are you going do now? (Just because a lot of students have asked me at the end of the year celebration)

My husband, Adrian, retired last year and we want to spend time together travelling, both abroad to places like South America (I’ve started learning Spanish) and South-East Asia, but also here in the UK – there’s so much beautiful landscape and so many wonderful places in the UK – and we plan to take our dog and our caravan and explore.  I also plan to make more of my garden – I love growing things.  I won’t leave the Foundation Centre completely though; I hope to engage with some projects.

What are you going miss the most?

The staff- we really are very collegiate, all focused on supporting and helping students makes for a lovely working environment.

What can you wish for the Foundation Centre?

I hope that the University continues to value and appreciate the huge amount of skill and expertise in the Centre.  There’s a huge opportunity for the Centre to support students more widely as part of the new Learning and Teaching Centre which is such a positive step forward. 

We are all sad that Catherine is leaving our Foundation Centre family and struggle to imagine it without her.

Staff – I don’t expect Catherine and Adrian to be the type of people who will live a quiet existence at home now that they’ve retired – I’ve no doubt that they will continue to be very active, making the most of their freedom to do some travelling.

Staff – It’s hard to imagine Catherine retired! She once told me she’d love to do an MA in anthropology or similar, and I know she has many interests such as music, camping, good food, travel and reading. I hope she has time to explore these fully while spending time with her extended family.

So we wish Catherine all the very best in this new stage of her life and we hope that she will come and visit us when she gets bored of travelling!

bye catherine!

Ice and Fire

Hi everybody,

My name is Adam Mead and I am a proud member of Durham University Archaeological Department. I am here to tell you about my project Ice and Fire but first I want to tell you a bit about myself. After working in sales it was my passion for archaeology that lead to investigations into possible careers in this area and ways of getting there. My academic journey started in the Durham University Foundation Centre and this was the basic platform of my current success and I will always be eternally grateful to everyone who helped me one my way. They offered me a place on Archaeology with Foundation programme and kick started my archaeological career which is now going from strength to strength.

Now about our project Ice and Fire!



THE ESTON HILLS dominate today’s industrial landscape of the Tees estuary and the rugged coastline of north-east England. The community moors and woodlands are a wildlife haven that also bear testament to human endeavour since the end of the last Ice Age, 12,000 years ago.

The foothills are dotted with the remains of nineteenth-century mines that supplied the iron and steel industries for which Teesside became renowned around the world. Yet this is also a place where prehistoric pioneers recolonized the tundra, following the deer, where hunter-gatherers roamed the wetlands and forests, crafted their flint tools, where Bronze Age ancestors constructed a hillfort and buried their dead under mounds of earth—still visible today.



Our heritage is at risk and ICE AND FIRE is a community project which aims to explore, record and celebrate the evidence for over ten thousand years of human life, death, ingenuity and persistence. The hills belong to the community of Teesside as a tranquil haven away from the bustle of modern life. Tragically, the hills are also plagued by acts of vandalism, illegal off roaders—and arson. The wetlands, which preserve evidence for past environments, are being irreparably damaged and the moorland is scarred by vehicle tracks. Our fragile, unique, irreplaceable heritage is at risk. Evidence left behind by Teesside’s first residents is literally being washed away. Fires scorch the thin peat which, until now, has protected the archaeology—evidence of our shared past.

Ice and Fire is a community based project designed to explore and record prehistoric archaeology at risk in eroding areas due to constant vandalism by 4×4 vehicles where artefacts have been found on the surface. Fieldwork will take place during the summer of 2017 and offers the opportunity to be part of a friendly team.



Ice and Fire aims to establish the nature of prehistoric activity and state of preservation with test pits. The project is also going to sample wetland areas with an auger to investigate past environments and conduct seasonal field-walking to assess the broader extent of prehistoric activity.

Our volunteers will have the chance to learn about archaeological fieldwork techniques, recording and finds analysis under expert guidance—no previous experience is needed. Volunteers from different backgrounds will receive necessary training to assess the damage and obtain the relevant data required.

Ice and Fire offers rare opportunity to explore the early prehistory of Teesside, recolonize the landscape for first time after the last Ice Age, recover dating evidence and record surviving features and test geophysical prospecting methods against sub-surface archaeology.

We are promoting our unique heritage and encouraging the community to be proud and save what’s at risk!




Meet the staff – Alison McManus

If you are ever in the mood to discuss literature and poetry find Dr Alison McManus. In our Foundation center she is the main enthusiast in a lot of projects projects such as Durham Book Festival and Poetry Exchange Project.  Here is what we found out about Alison for you.

How long have you been a part of Foundation Centre and what do you do here?
Almost 12 years, I’ve taught a range of modules but am now mainly responsible for English Literature and some of the Academic English modules. I also run some of our outreach projects, including our Family Learning Roadshows and the Poetry Exchange.

What are your areas of interest in your subject?
Last year I submitted my PhD in English Literature, which included both critical and creative components. The creative component is a novel called ‘Branwell & Daphne’, and in brief the book is about famous novelist Daphne du Maurier’s obsession with the ambitious but ruined Brontë brother, who was sacked for ‘proceedings bad beyond expression’ from his final teaching post. I became fascinated by Branwell Brontë’s life and even more intrigued by Daphne du Maurier’s portrayal of him in her 1960 biography; further research uncovered the ways in which the lives of these two literary personalities intersected. The critical component of the thesis examines and establishes a legacy of Gothic fiction, starting with Jane Eyre, while also examining contemporary texts from a feminist and post-colonial perspective, such as the work of Sarah Waters, Alan Hollinghurst and Jo Baker, before a thorough analysis of two novels which belong to that literary legacy of Jane Eyre: Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca and Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys. I feel incredibly lucky to be able to teach in the area that I have researched and I love discussing those texts with students.


Alison is treating students with sweets on a Foundation Centre trip

What are you scared of?
Donald J. Trump and his cronies

What are your guilty pleasures?
Cookery programmes, camping (even in the rain), a nice wedge of cheese on a cracker, accompanied by a decent glass of red wine, anything bookish or word-related: countless hours in bookshops and libraries, reading poetry & novels, playing board games & crossword puzzles, being pedantic about grammar J (sorry)

What is your favorite place on campus?
Two places: having my lunch in the gardens around Hilde Bede and I also love the Botanical Garden.

What kind of student were you?
As an undergraduate, I was a dreadful student. I procrastinated and partied far too much. It wasn’t until I came back to education after several years of teaching and traveling that I discovered how important it was to choose subjects that I was passionate about in order to maintain my interest. I also had to learn to be more organised and manage my time more effectively.

What would you advise to your new students coming this year?
I have spent ten minutes writing responses to this question and then deleting each one; it’s impossible to think of something that applies to every student and also doesn’t make me sound too much like my grandmother! Having said that, I think it is really important that students realise how much support there is on offer both in the Foundation Centre and across the university. Talk to someone if you are having problems sooner rather than later.


Foundation Centre on the yearly trip to Bronte Museum

Sophie: mature Criminology student on her time in the Foundation Centre

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

My name is Sophie. I am from Sacriston, Durham. I’ve just turned 31 in January and I enjoy films and binge watching boxsets. I’m currently catching up with Breaking Bad. I also love food! At the moment I am a first year Criminology student having completed the foundation year in 2016.

Why have you decided to come to Durham?

After redundancy 5 years ago I struggled to find a job or career I felt I could progress in or something I felt was suitable for my skill set. Without a degree, I felt my CV was lacking something a lot of younger people now routinely have. I was getting left behind at the age of 29! If I felt out of the running now it was only going to get increasingly harder as the years went by. For me living so close to Durham Uni, I knew of its prestige and the appeal the name has on prospective employers so hopefully by gaining a degree from Durham, not only am I fulfilling my ambition of obtaining a degree but doing so with the Durham name as a sign of quality.

How did your Foundation year go?

My foundation year was a year I will never forget. I made some good friends and by going through it all together we have a special kind of bond you only get by doing the foundation year. My friends from this year are the people I turn to for support or a bit of a chin wag about how different this year is. I was extremely anxious about attending all my lectures as I knew if I didn’t my stress levels would be through the roof! I’d be thinking what have I missed? Will that sole lecture be the foundation of the exam? Will other people do better than me in their essays because I didn’t grasp what was being communicated on the slides? I won’t lie, the year for me was both brilliant and stressful. However, on reflection the stress levels were completely my own doing! The deadlines were all spread out and all of the support you could need was available I just let the “Durham” name stress me, thinking even if I get through this year next year is going to be full of A* pupils who I can’t compete with. FIRST mistake! I’m not competing with them I’m here to get my own degree.16244129_10212046834268547_1748148133_n

How does it feel being a mature student?

For me I do feel like a mature student and I am acutely aware of the differences in attitudes but then I remind myself that I’m not 18, I don’t actually want that part of the student lifestyle but a degree. By going through the Foundation Centre I have made enough friends who can help and support me during my course.

As the only Criminology student from Foundation, I felt worried that I would be sat on my own this year cramping the style of the cool kids. However, that is not the case, you can be as chatty or as reserved as you want to be and there are other mature students who have completed an access course elsewhere. A vibrant mix of people who will mostly welcome you into their fold, though I am not one for mixing socially with them at Lloyds or the Loveshack as I can’t hold my drink as well as them!

What college are you in? Are you involved in college life? How do you like collegiate system?

Although I’m part of St Cuthbert’s College I very rarely have any dealings with them. As a liver-out I never had any need to contact the college and although I did attend some dinners I felt this was more suited for those who lived in.16343603_10212046822868262_1879329117_n

Are you a member of any societies or sports?

I did join DUSS (Swing Society) but as deadlines have mounted my attendance has declined! Naughty! I did think it was a good way to meet others and this society in particular did seem very welcoming of mature students. I do wish I had taken the time to go to more societies in the beginning – but there is always the freshers fair next year!!

What can you advise to other people coming to Durham and taking Foundation year.

The one piece of advice I can offer to future Foundation students is to get involved during class. The confidence I gained last year is actually quite staggering and I can’t imagine what I would be doing if I hadn’t taken that initial leap of faith! The one piece of advice I can offer is to get involved during class. The foundation year allows you to discuss things with each other and the Lecturers in a class room style, this will not be the case in your first year so take the opportunity now! Also, do the readings but don’t get stressed by it! Just make sure you timetable what you need to do and stick to it. The very best of luck!


Meet the Staff – We introduce to you Susan Scrafton


Those of you who are doing Applied Psychology already fell in love with Susan for her devotion to the subject and incredible skills as a teacher. She also teaches introductory psychology modules for Anthropology and Primary Education students.


How long have you been a part of Foundation Centre and what do you do here?

I joined the Foundation Centre in December 2008 with the remit of developing a widening access route into medicine. Gateway to Medicine was my ‘baby’ until last year. I was also the admissions tutor for a number of other routes but now I solely deal with applications to study Psychology. I have also been teaching Psychology modules since 2010 and developed the Psychology of Thinking and Learning module.

What are your areas of interest in your subject?

In Psychology my interests lie within cognitive development. I am interested in pragmatics (the use of everyday language) and the interface between this and reasoning. The errors people make when reasoning gets me very excited and I spent 4 years studying how people interpret the quantifier some for my PhD. You will have to take my word that it was a fascinating subject. Now, I am interested in assessment and feedback and have been looking into student’s experiences of this for the past few years.

What are you scared of?

Daddy longlegs. Horrible things – what is the point of them!!!

What are your guilty pleasures?

I have two: World Strongest Man; Jon Pall Sigmarrson was The Man.  Crazy Golf; we once drove for two hours across Holland to play our favourite course.

What is your favorite place on campus?

The Foundation Centre hot office; great views of the river and you can see Roseberry Topping in the distance

What kind of student were you?

Curious, passionate, hardworking, and full of questions.

What would you advise to your new students coming this year?

Be  passionate about your subject, hard working and don’t be afraid to ask question and you will succeed.