Primary Explorers

Primary Explorers

The Widening Access Team delivers the Primary Explorers programme for primary school pupils to introduce students to higher education (HE) from a young age. With evidence showing that one in three applicants begin thinking about HE in primary school (UCAS, 2021), the programme supports aspirations, by helping to provide students with an understanding of what university is and the courses and careers university can lead to. 

The Primary Explorers programme is split into two key stands: the Primary Explorers project, a multi-stage intervention targeting inner city Derby schools with high numbers of widening participation students; and the Primary Explorers Days, one day events providing the opportunity for any school to engage in careers activities with the University.  

In 2022/23, the project was delivered to Year 6 pupils in Redwood Primary School, Wyndham Primary Academy, Zaytouna Primary School, Chaddesden Park Primary School, and The Bemrose Primary School. Many of these schools are also feeders to the Derby City secondary schools the Widening Access Team targets, thus extending the careers learning across their education journey. 

Table 1: Key data on the Primary Explorers programme.

Data Results 
Participants engaged   549 students  
From the 40% most deprived areas based on IMD data  97% 

Number of activities  


Number of schools engaged  



Pre and post-project evaluation forms were collected from 382 students and built upon the theory of change which provides a rationale for our activities in improving overall student outcomes.  

The themes of the questions focused on ascertaining the students’ knowledge of HE and understanding their perceptions of HE. Additionally, the project seeks to find a connection between students’ knowledge of HE courses and aspirations to pursue a career linked with HE.   

A total of 19 school staff evaluation forms were also completed at the end of the activities. Questions on these forms focused on gaining an understanding of the knowledge students acquired during the Primary Explorers activities.  

The table indicates the change in Knowledge and perceptions of HE from participants who took part in both strands of the programme. 

Perception of higher education

Students who feel they would fit in at university

46% BEFORE Primary Project/Days
61% AFTER Primary Project/Days

Knowledge of higher education

Students who have a good level of knowledge of university

17% BEFORE Primary Project/Days
54% AFTER Primary Project/Days

Attitudes of higher education

Students who expressed an ambition to go to university in the future

61% BEFORE Primary Project/Days
78% AFTER Primary Project/Days

Teacher feedback

Teacher voice is an important element of our evaluation activities, as such, we asked school staff what information or knowledge they thought their students had gained:    

Student and staff evaluations demonstrate the impact of the Primary Explorers programme to improve the learners' understanding of what university is and the pathway to a range of careers through enhancing knowledge on the subjects which can be studied at university. Almost 90% of all students surveyed across both strands, demonstrated an accurate understanding of what a university is, how old you need to be and an awareness of subjects you can study at university following the programme.  

As Kattab (2015) argues, this is important as children need to have an understanding of university and where it can take them in order to aspire to HE. 


Kattab, N. (2015).Students’ aspirations, expectations and school achievement: what really matters? British Educational Research Journal, 41(5), p.731-748. 

UCAS (2021) 2020 Entry UCAS Undergraduate Report – Where Next? Online. [Accessed 30/01/23]