Discovery and discussion: Running university seminars for primary pupils

Written by: Sue-Ellen Lamb | Published:
From economics to yoga: Every Friday, pupils at Race Leys Junior School take part in university-style seminars themed on all manner of extra-curricular and inspiring topics

The Griffin University initiative sees primary pupils at schools across the Griffin Schools Trust experiencing university-style seminars every week. Sue-Ellen Lamb explains how it works at Race Leys Junior School

At Race Leys Junior School in Warwickshire, we have recently implemented an exciting and enriching change in the educational routine for all of our 236 pupils.

The Griffin University has given us a new vision of what learning can look like, for everyone, even at this young age. In this article, I would like to share our experiences and encourage other schools to consider adding a similar additional provision to their timetables.

What is the Griffin University?

The Griffin University is an innovative teaching approach that we utilise at Race Leys, which is part of the Griffin Schools Trust.

The three interconnected pillars of the Griffin Schools Trust are high achievement, wide horizons, and proud traditions. The university initiative aims to promote and reinforce these pillars and Griffin University is already well established in several other schools within the trust.

At Race Leys, we have dedicated our Friday afternoons to “university” time for our pupils to enhance their regular junior school week.

The children are given seminar-style opportunities on various subjects that often fall outside the standard curriculum. These subjects include things such as economics, Mediterranean cuisine, business management, pop art, yoga, forensic science – you get the idea!

The seminar sessions are led by our staff, who are dedicated to broadening their subject knowledge and finding new ways of passing on the baton of a thirst for learning to our next generation.

Exposing the children to a curriculum broader than their usual subjects widens their horizons and encourages them to deepen their learning.

Setting aside this regular focused time each week allows all students to access the same extra-curricular opportunity.

The university-style experience encourages the children to take a mature outlook to their new learning and aspire. It can even give them an insight into what higher education might have to offer, should they choose to take that route later in life.

The initiative is also part of our Pupil Premium strategy. The school has 38% Pupil Premium and one of our aims is to tackle “low aspirations and expectations” for some pupils. Griffin University allows us to heighten aspirations while promoting higher learning and introducing the idea of university study.

Our seminar-style delivery of the subject matter enables pupils to take ownership of their learning while promoting independence in their discoveries. It is also a welcome change in routine at the end of a busy week, for teachers and students alike.

How does it work in practice?

Each session runs for an hour on a Friday afternoon, from 2pm to 3pm, when teaching staff deliver independently run seminars linked to their own passion and or skillset.

The seminars are constructed to include a mixture of approaches to learning. Children from all year groups across the junior school participate in lecture-style scenarios, but also work in teams to create and complete showcase pieces of work.

Across the school all learning spaces can be utilised for the seminars, with larger spaces facilitating the more practical seminars, such as ballet and orchestral music.

And in terms of planning the seminars, each half-term the teaching staff will discuss and plan out the themes, weeks in advance, and they are revealed to children to help build some excitement and wonder.

What do the children gain?

We find that the break in timetable from regular school lessons to university-style seminars can help in engaging the children’s interest in new topics and raising aspirations.

It allows them to discover new subjects and topics, many of which they may not have encountered before, and apply their new subject knowledge in authentic contexts and through group discussion, taking ownership of their learning.

Encouraging a more mature approach to learning even at this young age has been shown to whet the appetites of pupils who excel in certain aspects of the curriculum, challenging them to deepen their understanding and broaden their knowledge.

It has also been beneficial for children who may lack confidence by ensuring that knowledge and skills are applied through an exciting selection of topics.

Moreover, in the university style of learning, we are able to explain topics often with “real-life” relevance and practical applications that can help them consolidate their new knowledge and understand its purpose.

In attending their weekly seminars, students are encouraged to learn alongside one another and discuss what they discover with their peers and staff. This means they can work together to challenge and support each other in deepening their understanding of new topics and their application.

And it’s not just for the children. For our teachers, the initiative offers a welcome opportunity to research and teach subjects and topics outside the regular curriculum and in different ways. The change in subject matter and the change in routine greatly enhance our staff’s teaching experience.

How to get involved in your own junior university

Adding to your regular curriculum and setting up a junior university requires the shared vision of the educators and leaders in your school and a willingness on the part of your team to deepen and share their subject knowledge to support the children to deepen their own.

We would recommend initially holding a staff session to see what additional topics your colleagues are already interested in or knowledgeable about.

This way, you will find that you have several potential seminars already. You will then need to find a regular time in your weekly timetable to deliver the initiative.

Again, a discussion is vital: the seminars should not be given as dry talks “at” the pupils but should be exciting and enriching introductions to different topics, emphasising discovery and discussion.

We are delighted with the success of Griffin University so far. The concept is ambitious, but it can be rolled out easily enough in schools and we would encourage others to follow our lead.

  • Sue-Ellen Lamb is head of school at Race Leys Junior School in Warwickshire, which is part of the Griffin Schools Trust. Visit

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