Students are returning to schools to signal the end of lockdown-based learning. It has been an unparalleled time for students in their most formative years. We sat down with both students and parents to discuss how CREST Awards can prepare them for life beyond lockdown.

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When the United Kingdom went into lockdown on 23 March, the lives of thousands of students were turned upside down. Their traditional school-based learning methods were replaced by virtual or home-based lessons, testing the resilience of students throughout the country.

One such student was Bella Musto, who was preparing for her GCSE exams when lockdown arrived. Her father, Garrod, spoke to the British Science Association about his daughter’s involvement in the CREST Awards scheme, something he described as vital for his daughter at such an uncertain time.

“I think having something structured like a Gold CREST Award to work towards has been invaluable,” he says.

“This is true both for her mental wellbeing and, importantly, her preparations for academic exams, so she was in the mindset that she was going to ‘work hard’.”

Indeed, the CREST Award subsequently became a part of her daily routine and helped structure her time during lockdown.

Evaluating her Gold CREST Award, Bella said the project gave her a way to explore her passion and interest in science, especially as she is going to study biology, chemistry and maths at A-level.

Working independently from home, she chose to research therapeutic and reproductive cloning, exploring the background, benefits and ethics of both, and how these factors should affect future investment into cloning. When describing her Award, Bella said,

“’I loved being able to research a topic that fascinated me and helped me to develop more informed views on something I am passionate about.’’

A matter of days after returning to school, Bella was awarded her Gold CREST Award, with lockdown a distant memory.

“’What I won’t forget,’’ Bella says, “’is the impact the CREST Award has had on me. Studying a Gold CREST Award at home helped me develop my independent learning skills and my motivation to continue research. I am excited to be able to apply these skills within my A-levels and then at university in the future.’’

The CREST Awards have been good projects for home-based learning, but they have also been used to help students get ahead for tertiary education. Welsh 18-year-old Enyala Banks and her twin sister, Arianne, were recently offered places at the University of Oxford after completing Gold CREST Awards.

Enyala’s passion for physics and engineering started early in secondary school. She then went on to study maths, physics, chemistry and history at A-level at Cardiff Sixth Form College.

She took part in the Engineering Education Scheme Wales (EESW) and, as part of that, found a passion for Material Science.

“Since I enjoyed aspects of both physics and chemistry, it seemed like a good way to incorporate the two into a career,” she said.

During her studies, Enyala took part in a CREST Award providing a practical solution to a problem posed by Network Rail.

“We needed to find a way of measuring current in the overhead rail line in an unobtrusive way. My group of eight decided to use the Hall effect and try and assemble our own Hall effect sensor.”

After overcoming some obstacles, the group came up with a design for a sensor that used Gallium arsenide as the material.

Enyala says the project, which resulted in a CREST Gold Award, gave her a number of skills that she will take into her studies in October., such as researching and presenting. However, the most significant benefit was the peace of mind knowing what field she wanted to enter, having juggled engineering and science.

“The award just consolidated to me that I wanted to go into engineering and, more specifically than that, that my interest most solidly lay in the areas encompassed by materials science as a subject.

With classrooms returning, Garrod has jumped straight back into his work as Director of Kingswood International Schools. He says he has no doubt the Award has put his daughter in good stead for life beyond secondary school.

“The CREST Award gave her an outlet which enabled her to develop her understanding of something which interested her, and I think she surprised herself a little just how rewarding it has been.

“I have no doubt that Bella has gained a great deal from this experience, and will have grown in this time of uncertainty due to her ability to engage with your wonderful CREST Award scheme at home.”

Meanwhile, for Enyala, her journey into materials science – COVID-19 willing – will begin in with her studies at the University of Oxford in October. Her sister Arianne will be there too, albeit at a different college. Until then, there will be more time for the 18-year-old to reflect on her journey so far and look forward to what lies ahead.

“I feel so lucky to have been given opportunities like working with the EESW and partaking in the CREST Awards, which have enabled me to get to where I am today.”