Working in partnership for the future

Is it ever too early to start planning your career? Natasha Mckim finds out how children can get ahead in their education.

Music classes, sports tuition, dancing lessons, learning languages – parents today have more choice but also more pressure than ever on them to educate their children and help them grow into well rounded individuals.


The decisions made in childhood can affect a person for the rest of their life, so it is important to get started off on the right foot. Mary De la Pena, 62, is chief executive of Children’s University Scotland. She is part of a team who are passionate about education and giving children the best possible chances.

“We want to encourage people to aim higher and raise aspirations,” said Mary.

“I have always worked in schools and education. It is very rewarding.”

At Nottingham Trent University, before moving to Scotland, Mary worked with schools and colleges in outreach programmes, with training in literacy and numbers.

Mary said: “Our theme at Children’s University is ‘working in partnership’. You cannot achieve anything without a collaboration approach. It is critical and schools value the support.”

Children’s University Scotland was set up in Scotland in 2013, with the financial support of the Scottish Power Foundation. CU Trust Scotland was registered as a charity in April 2013, set up to oversee the strategic development of Children’s University in Scotland.

Children’s University Scotland was the first project to be awarded funding by the Scottish Power Foundation, established to reinforce the energy company’s commitment to charitable work throughout Britain. They are trying to inspire more young children in Scotland, including those from disadvantaged backgrounds, to get out and learn new skills and experiences.


“Children’s University are not forcing schools to take part,” said Mary.

“It is voluntary. People are busy and have to choose to do it for the value of it.

“Children’s University provides the framework to record and celebrate wider achievements.”

Focusing on education outside of the classroom and traditional learning, children can be involved in anything such as drama classes, visiting museums, arts and crafts and sports. They are issued with a Passport to Learning, where they can record their activities.

“The little hardback copy of their passport is a tangible piece of evidence of outside school learning,” said Mary.

“It is to get children to recognise the skills they have developed from fun activities, separate from school but often within the school environment.”

After collecting 30 hours of learning in their passports, the children get to participate in an official graduation in partnership with one of the many universities in Scotland.


“The children build up their credits for certificates and awards. The graduation is emotional and is prestigious,” Mary said.

“We had parents in tears at the Children’s University graduation at the University of Aberdeen. It is like a real graduation, while being little.

“The Children’s University graduation is often after the grown-up graduation, where everything is still set up.

“The children are made to feel so special, with gowns and caps. It is taken very seriously by the university and is a culmination for the children, underpinning the importance of the activities and a chance for them to reflect on developing skills to help them during their career.

“We are trying to build up their confidence and give them experiences they might not have access to.”

Universities have opened up their facilities and allowed the children to events such as science fairs and sports club, to demystify university life. Children’s University doesn’t pressure the children to go to university, but allows them to make an informed decision and teach them about their options, including colleges and apprenticeships.

The organisation recently announced it had reached 100,000 learning hours in Scotland and it will soon announce it works with 1,000 learning destinations. Children’s University Scotland works in partnership with colleges, universities and local authorities across a geographical patch. Parents who are interested in their children being involved should first approach their schools to see if Children’s University Scotland operates in their area.

Mary said: “Every parent and child should know of the opportunities available.”








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