Spotlight On: Accessibility through partnerships

Posted on: 02 Mar 2023
Posted by: Jenny Cox

Jenny Cox, director of co-curricular, partnerships and philanthropy at Wimbledon High School GDST, explains how her school’s collaborations have been instrumental in unlocking new educational experiences for pupils, teachers and the wider community.

The Girls’ Day Schools Trust (GDST) was founded In January 1873 with the aim of making education accessible to able girls, whatever their background, and offered scholarships to schools from the outset. This principle is still fundamental to the GDST today as it provides financial assistance to approximately 1,100 students every year.

Accessibility comes in different forms and, as with many other schools in the independent sector, Wimbledon High School (WHS) commits to widening access financially through bursaries, staff secondees and the loan of facilities. However, what lies at the core of the WHS agenda for partnerships is providing opportunities to develop a greater understanding between people from different walks of life. Bringing people together, from diverse backgrounds, over a sustained period, is what we have found to be most impactful: students from some of the most disadvantaged areas of the country, working hand in hand with those from the most affluent areas, sharing experiences in a safe, fun, educational environment. These opportunities are powerful and mutually beneficial, as those involved begin to appreciate their similarities and differences, their hopes and dreams. Through these partnerships, we have witnessed genuine bonds between students of all ages.

‘Small actions can do bigger things than you think. Just talking and socialising with people can help create a stronger community’ - Year 12 WHS student

‘Working with a school less privileged has just changed the way I look at things: she helped me to develop new perspectives, and also just appreciate this opportunity’ - Year 11 WHS student

The senior school programme touches the lives of approximately 300 external students, 200 WHS students and 25 staff on a weekly basis. The primary school pathway gives Year 4 pupils on the Saturday SHINE programme, who may be struggling at home or at school, the chance to buddy up with a Year 11 or Sixth Form mentor to enjoy a variety of activities. These range from exploring the moon using VR headsets, to reaching for the stars via dance (yes, S Club 7!), and all are aimed at enhancing self-efficacy, self-confidence and raising aspirations. Impact data from 2022 showed a 12 per cent increase in aspirations from pre- and post- course testing. Moving into Year 5, STRIVE works with 50 high-achieving pupil premium students to provide mentorship and opportunities beyond the curriculum in coding, science, English and maths. STRIVE aims to raise the aspirations of high-achieving pupils and give them the confidence to consider a range of secondary school options. The Year 6 THRIVE programme welcomes 130 students weekly to take part in a carousel of activities which explore and address the potential anxieties of moving into secondary school. Our secondary and community partnerships are truly collaborative, with Wimbledon and partners working together on projects such as Twinkle Orbyts with UCL, designing, building, and then racing a green powered car and sharing poetry with the inmates at HMP Downview.

These partnership programmes provide the platform for students, the elderly and those with extreme physical needs to exchange stories and begin the process of understanding each other’s backgrounds. With Wimbledon Common on our doorstep, the WHS Junior School programme ‘Out of the Classroom into the Woods’ brought anecdotes from primary partners about the child who hadn’t visited Richmond Park despite being able to see it from their high rise flat. This type of story, alongside learning about the children who, with extreme physical or cognitive needs, face different challenges in their schools every day; or appreciating the loneliness of the elderly, has helped to develop a sense of perspective and feelings of empathy among the WHS students. They are more prepared to stride out into adulthood with a greater understanding of people outside their own socio-economic group, with greater compassion and a willingness to support the levelling-up agenda. Likewise, the reassurance, kindness, and encouragement from WHS students is welcomed by the partner school students, parents, and staff. An uplift in student behaviour, attainment and attendance at partner schools has been directly linked to these programmes:

‘It is because of this engagement and the ‘fun factor’, which has made a difference to their acquisition of knowledge and skills as well as attendance - some pupils, who have struggled with attendance, were always in on a Thursday (partnership day)!’ - Karen Jones, headteacher at Green Wrythe Primary School

As I’ve outlined, partnerships take on varied forms, with staff and parent interaction also vitally important. We are delighted to be part of the West London Partnership group, supporting in full the delivery of CPD and student activities.

And finally, bringing into the fold the parents of partnership schools is a critical next step to be able to initiate full and lasting impact within families. We can collaborate with schools and their students without significant parental input: in fact, once permission has been obtained, some Year 4 students have made their way to WHS on a Saturday independently. However, our aim is to inspire the parents as well as the students, to facilitate a conversation at home which supports their daughter’s or son’s raised aspirations, excitement, or happiness through the experiences they are having within the WHS programmes. Therefore, our most recent collaboration is designed to engage and work with the parents of our Year 4 SHINE students, on a Saturday morning, the ‘SHINE Seniors’… an exciting new chapter.

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About Jenny Cox

Jenny Cox is director of co-curricular, partnerships and philanthropy at Wimbledon High School GDST.