Scores of primary school pupils gathered at Carlisle Cathedral to have their dedication to learning and hard work officially recognised – in a hats and gown graduation ceremony.

The 100 or so children are all students of the recently created Cumbria Children’s University.

The idea is simple but powerful: all six participating schools encourage their pupils to take part in the aspiration-raising project which encourages the youngsters to widen and deepen their learning.

With experiences beyond the classroom, the children have thrown themselves into a huge variety of activities – music, theatre, sport, science, and history, taking advantage of local facilities which earn them a succession of credits in their learning “passports”.

It aims to encourage a passion for learning from an early age, said Elaine Price, acting principle of Carlisle College, which along with the University of Cumbria supports the scheme.

She said: “We’re sponsoring children because we’re passionate about raising aspirations. The children absolutely love this.

“It helps them to develop a love of learning which goes beyond school; and the graduation ceremony rewards them for all their efforts.”

In her address to the youngsters, Mrs Price said: “These young people have made a commitment to continue their learning outside the classroom, actively seeking and taking part in a wide variety of different learning opportunities.

“It is therefore fitting that we take the time to recognise their achievements, and to thank the staff who have supported them.”

University pro-vice chancellor Sandra Booth said: “It can have a huge impact.

“It can make learning much more fun and do a lot to increase confidence and give children a chance to study the things they are really interested in.”

That praise for the scheme was echoed by many of the parents and children were took part in the graduation.

The proud parents included Helen Smalley, there with her seven-year-old daughter Charlotte, and Gwendoline McDonough, there with Carys, eight, who come from, Hayton.

Helen, 37, said: “The good thing about this is that it gets the children to try new things that they wouldn’t normally have a go at. My oldest daughter, Harriet [aged 12], came through it and she got a lot out of it. It gave her more confidence.”

Gwendoline added: “It teaches life skills.”

Helen McLatchie, 43, from Annan, was there her daughter Ilana, 10.

“She’s loved taking part,” said Helen, whose six-year-old son Lucas was there to watch the graduation. “She’s done football twice a week at Annan Athletic, and she’s gone to the Razzmataz theatre school. It’s really boosted her confidence and given her a lot of new experiences.”

Ilana agreed. “It has helped my confidence,” said the youngster, who hopes one day to become an architect.

Inside the News & Star on Wednesday and Thursday: University of Cumbria graduations