Partnerships in independent schools - positive outcomes for all

Posted on: 12 Nov 2019
Posted by: Nicola Huggett

Nicola Huggett, head of Cheltenham College, writes about the many benefits associated with cross-sector partnership working.

“The fact or condition of being a partner; association or participation; companionship.”

I wanted to begin this blog post with a definition of partnership. However, it seems that my usually reliable Oxford English Dictionary has let me down; the definition quoted above is, well, a little dry and uninspiring. Which is in fact the exact opposite of the reality of partnership working that we experience.

The reality of partnership working runs throughout every part of our school and benefits everyone. We have enhanced, formally agreed partnerships with two local schools, All Saints’ Academy and St John’s CofE Primary School as well as ongoing annual partnership projects with organisations and charities across the town and the globe.

The benefit of having my office next door to the main school theatre and concert hall is that as I write I can hear a lively lecture taking place right now from Dr Peter Vardy of Candle Conferences, attended by pupils not just from our own school, but also our partner school, All Saints’. This is not a one-off. Pupils share extension lessons in GCSE maths, English and physics, boost their UCAS applications with a unique Mini MBA programme at A-level, and even row together at the College boathouse, amongst many other opportunities. Staff come together regularly too, sharing best practice and training opportunities. As a group of staff, we have become good friends.

Across the road at our Prep School, similar things are happening. The benefits of partnership working are instilled from a young age as pupils come together to form joint sports teams, deliver shared choral concerts in the chapel and even dissect owl pellets in our labs (true partnership working really is varied!). We have also pooled some of our marketing resources with St John’s, helping the school to standout in a crowded local market with a new online video and its own minibus.

And it doesn’t stop there. This morning our boarding houses were a-chatter with stories from the latest trip by pupils to the Residential School for Children with Special Needs in Bradet, Romania. This annual trip is the culmination of a huge amount of fundraising by pupils that has supported the school to build new dormitories, workshops and play equipment over the last decade. The gift of time and effort from our pupils has helped to change the school into one which better enables young people to flourish. I joined the trip to Bradet this year myself and can honestly say it was one of the most humbling experiences of my life. It was a privilege to meet and work alongside the wonderful staff who work so hard there, and I wish I had experienced such trips and valuable life lessons during my own schooldays.

I could continue for many pages more about all of our partnership work and its benefits (we have recently filled two brochures with over 50 pages of overview on the topic!). Hopefully the above gives you a flavour of the range and amount of activity taking place. In Cheltenham itself, we are pooling our partnership ideas as a group, with four independent and five state schools collaborating in our new Cheltenham Education Partnership.

But what is it all for? You may find your motives for partnership working questioned, or eyebrows raised at the amount of resource dedicated to these endeavours. I urge you not to be deterred.

True and successful partnership working should provide real benefits for all. We have proven that it does.

Tens of thousands of hours of time and effort have been given by staff and pupils to various projects. We have worked with over 35 partner organisations across the world to change lives – the most positive outcomes have been the human benefits.

Pupils and staff at Cheltenham College and their peers at our partner schools have learned the importance of collaboration, community and giving. They have developed new skills and shared their own talents, to the benefit of everyone. They have learned those ‘money can’t buy’ life lessons as part of this work.

Users of the services provided by our partner organisations have benefited from our partnerships through the time and finance given and the positive outcomes that this has achieved. Lives have been changed. Everyone involved in our partnership working has grown, developed and been helped in some way.

So if you need a ‘real’ definition of partnership for independent schools to use in your report for the governing body or to inspire your staff or pupils, please feel free to use this much more apt variation:

Partnerships – “a range of fun, inspiring and life-changing projects that are the right thing to do; enriching us all as individuals and allowing our communities to flourish.”

About Nicola Huggett

Nicola Huggett is head of Cheltenham College.