One of the winning bids for funding to extend the European Commission's Pounds 5 billion Framework Three research programme to eastern Europe caused much surprise among Europe's research community. Twyford Church of England High School in west London won a Pounds 34,000 contract to manage a project developing a new type of solar cell in collaboration with the Charles University, Prague and the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences.
The contract is the third that the secondary school has secured from the EU for a long-term research project on solar cells.
The school is an honorary member of a research consortium also funded by the EC to work on the same type of solar cells. Research into solar cells is an extra-curricular activity for sixth formers started 15 years ago by Dr Robert Buckley, the head teacher (PhD in Applied Physics). Each year between six and twelve pupils take part. "It gives students an introduction to what life is like at the frontiers of science. They have to communicate and write their work up in a professional way," Dr Buckley says.
Sixth formers present their findings at conferences around Europe with other consortium members. These include scientists from a Parisian Grande Ecole, the Universities of Durham, Ghent, Parma and Northumbria and three leading European research firms.
Dr Buckley says pupil researchers tend to gain more university acceptances than their teachers expected and many go on to take physics. "We get both Oxbridge candidates and people who work hard to get an E joining the team. The most successful researchers have not always been the those who have achieved the highest A-level grades," he says.
Twyford is one of 38 schools participating in a Royal Society and Association for Science Education scheme, which has been supporting scientific research in schools since 1967.