Gordon Taylor shares the impact his recently funded Partnership Grant project has had on his school and students as well as exploring their longer term plans for the project.

So... how’s that prestigious Royal Society science project going? Well, after four weeks, we have a warped waterwheel that doesn’t turn, on top of a wooden pallet stuffed with lemonade bottles (for buoyancy) on top of a baby buggy with flat tyres. "It's not quite like CERN" said a passing teacher, trying to be funny. 

On the other hand, the unit is parked in a bike shelter which is now on a covid one-way circulation route. Hundreds of children snake past it every day and many want to know what it is, what we’re doing, and are the tyres supposed to be flat? A parent even sought me out at the school gates to say, “she never stops talking about it, you’ve done wonders for her confidence.”

Walton Priory Middle School Partnership Grant project

Our year-long challenge is to discover “the most efficient shape of paddle on an undershot waterwheel.” The initial team of Y7 eleven-year-olds is building the basic floating unit, and subsequent teams will install the generator, a waterproof camera and the Bluetooth data loggers. More children will then work out the logistics of pushing it 2 km to the river. Hence the buggy wheels.

Walton Priory Middle School Partnership Grant project

Our Partnership Grant has primarily been used to purchase a vacuum former, which we’ll use to shape the paddles after the computer aided design process. This is where our STEM Partner, Mr Joe Barker, will be invaluable. He’s a turbine blade specialist working in Nottingham with Rolls Royce. Our initial submission included a couple of factory visits but that’s had to be changed [due to COVID-19 restrictions] and our children will now share their paddle designs electronically and he’ll feedback via video link. Our waterwheel project will eventually involve all 140 pupils in Y7 and the vacuum former is also being used in the DT classroom with other groups.

Walton Priory Middle School Partnership Grant project

We expect to get scientifically valid results next summer. There are tentative plans for Saturday picnics by the river, with children explaining to parents what the data from the waterwheel means. We’ll be able to swap paddles quickly and demonstrate how different water speeds suit different profiles. In the meantime, we’ll share our progress across social media, newsletters and assemblies.

Support from the Royal Society is a big thing for us. Thank you so much.

Walton Priory is a Staffordshire LEA Middle School, teaching children from Y5 to Y8. After decades of underfunding and two rough Ofsted inspections, the school is now officially “good” and developing quickly. STEM is important to us; all children have weekly STEM lessons, and our competition teams have a string of local and national successes behind them. The project lead in school is Gordon Taylor. He recently won £5,000 for the school as the ERA Foundation’s “Engineering Teacher of the Year.”


  • Gordon Taylor

    Gordon Taylor

    Gordon Taylor is a STEM Technician at Walton Priory Middle School. The school are working with Turbine Surface Technologies as their STEM partner.