Spotlight On: The Kent Academies Network

Posted on: 01 Dec 2023

Kathy O’Donnell, director of the Institute of Service and Partnerships at Sevenoaks School, explains how the Kent Academies Network – which has just celebrated its 10th anniversary – is helping to remove barriers to higher education.

The ethos of service and partnerships is central to a Sevenoaks education. The vision of our founder, William Sevenoke, was to establish a school that would transform his community and provide access to education, and that very much remains the school’s purpose today.

Our service and partnerships work focuses on forming meaningful, equitable partnerships to provide young people from all backgrounds with the knowledge, skills and confidence to pursue their ambitions. 

Supporting students to achieve ambitious goals

One of our flagship secondary school partnerships is the Kent Academies Network (KAN), which has just celebrated its tenth year and is covered in more detail in the ISC’s Celebrating Partnerships booklet. KAN is a unique, four-year programme for students at five academies across Kent, beginning in Year 9 and ending in Year 13. Designed to remove barriers to higher education, the programme seeks to build on the academic success of local state schools, promote self-confidence and agency and give students the chance to explore diverse pathways.

Sharing knowledge and experiences

As part of the programme, KAN students are partnered with undergraduate mentors and come to regular meet-up days and residentials held at Sevenoaks School. The mentoring relationship and the peer support network, fostered by the small size of the cohorts, are key to KAN’s success. An incredible 98 per cent of KAN alumni receive places for university degrees or high-level apprenticeships. 

Immer, one of our KAN alumni studying music at Goldsmiths, has returned as a mentor for our current cohort. She spoke passionately about the power of school partnerships at the inaugural School Partnerships Alliance conference, which Sevenoaks hosted earlier this month and the ISC attended.

She said:

“From primary school through to secondary school, my educational experience has been heavily influenced by different local partnerships. Despite being a shy child, I was very happy to do everything and anything to do with school.

“Through KAN, we had the opportunity to go to many universities, and as someone whose parents hadn’t been to university, this was incredibly insightful and useful. We were able to familiarise ourselves from an early point with the atmospheres of different universities, with many individuals' experiences and even what it was like to stay at the colleges in Cambridge on our residentials. I knew very quickly from day trips to SOAS and Kings’ that I wanted to study in London, especially if I wanted to pursue music.”

Broadening access to educational resources

As well as KAN, Sevenoaks also partners with 33 schools through our local Primary Hub. Our students and staff deliver a programme encompassing a diverse range of academic and extra-curricular enrichment activities, including STEM, music, art, sport and literacy. Fuelling curiosity and celebrating learning in the widest sense is a golden thread that runs through the programme.

Immer recounts learning Latin and attending various music events at primary school as part of this partnership work. She explains why she feels so strongly about this:

“Partnerships between schools have the ability to offer a wider, more holistic, educational experience. They provide opportunity and discovery and instil confidence in so many of the students involved. I see this with my own experience and the students I work with now in the Kent Academies Network.”

Opening students’ eyes to new interests

Broadening horizons is a key aim of KAN and as Immer explains:

“My time at KAN as a mentee allowed me to try different subjects. We looked at classics, forensics and philosophy. I know for many people in my cohort these sessions pushed them to pursue degrees in these subjects. In all subjects there was room for discussion and debate, and the small cohort size always made it feel like everyone was always listened to.”

Immer speaking at the SPA conference.

Sevenoaks School works with teachers, students, parents and the wider community to advance education across Kent and beyond, also enriching our own education through working in partnership with secondary schools and through KAN. In doing this, we share our founder’s vision of a school rooted in the community and providing education for all.

To read more about the Kent Academies Network, read the ISC’s Celebrating Partnerships booklet or click here.

About Kathy O’Donnell

Kathy O'Donnell is director of the institute of service and partnerships at Sevenoaks School.