Spotlight On: 40 years of partnership with local Catholic schools

Posted on: 05 Apr 2024
Posted by: Rachel Owens

Rachel Owens, headmistress at St George’s College, Weybridge, reflects on the school’s long-running partnership with local Catholic primary schools, a collaboration that began almost 40 years ago.

The partnership between St George’s College, Weybridge (SGC) and local Catholic primary schools was established in the 1980s by Fr Martin Ashcroft, the college chaplain. At the time, Martin was head of religious studies (RS) and felt passionately about creating another branch of outreach to complement our Kennedy Club. Established in the 1960s, the club has served adults with learning needs for many years, and now hosts local refugees every Thursday evening.

The RS outreach programme sees every member of the Upper Sixth take on a teaching role, whatever their personal faith background, at a number of Catholic primaries in the area. Students spend the Christmas term of Upper Sixth preparing their lessons under the expert guidance of RS teachers at the college, then put their plans into action the following term. They travel straight to their allocated school every Thursday morning and spend the next two hours working alongside the class teachers to deliver fun and interactive lessons. The series of lessons culminate in all those involved coming together at the end of term in the chapel at St George’s (with transport for the primary children provided by SGC), and celebrating a joyous Mass, followed by squash and biscuits.

The programme is a major organisational undertaking; the entire RS department, as well as other teaching colleagues – 10 staff and 140 students – take part each year. We work with six local schools and send students into a variety of year groups, from Year 1 to Year 6. All of this involves careful liaison with our partner schools to ensure that the right topics are covered, at the right level. And though the classroom teacher remains in the room, the lessons are very much led by the sixth formers, so the students are trained in behaviour management as well as the curriculum. This often makes them more sympathetic to their own teachers!

Every year, some students start by being sceptical about the scheme, saying they are not religious themselves (less than 30 per cent of our students are Catholic), or they would prefer to spend the time revising for their A-levels. Their parents too, may question it at the outset.  However, once engaged in the weekly visits, they are soon converts!  One parent said: “Having seen the impact on [my child], how he’s grown in maturity and understanding, I can honestly say my view has changed totally.”

Daisy, a participant in the collaboration, said: “It has been an amazing experience, the teaching as much as the fun activities that we do with the students. It has been great getting to know each of them and what they’re interested in outside the classroom, and honestly, I was so surprised at how eager they all were to learn regardless of whether they like the subject.”

Ollie added: “The RS outreach programme has taught me a valuable lesson of the more effort you put in, the more rewarding the experience is. Being able to provide young children with learning experiences is very enriching and beneficial to both them and you.” Jack said of his experience: “From the first week to the last it has been so rewarding to work with the children at St Anne’s. Not only did it develop useful communication and organisational skills, but Thursday mornings were also a much needed step back from the busy school days. I hope the children enjoyed it as much as we did!”

This partnership continues to grow and evolve over time. Its strength and resilience lie in the commitment of the teachers and students at St George’s, and also the way in which our partners embrace it every year. The openness and enthusiasm of the young people is also key; many of them are initially cautious about being catapulted into the classroom, but soon realise how rewarding it can be. We are confident that it will continue to thrive.

About Rachel Owens

Rachel Owens is headmistress at St George’s College, Weybridge