Time to Celebrate: An independent-state schools partnership founded in 2003 celebrates ten years of collaboration
By Harry Chapman, Director of Partnerships at King’s College School, Wimbledon
Unlikely, but true: a group of thirteen-year-old students from an academy in one of the toughest areas in South London playing their guitars in front of the Schools Minister, Lord Nash, at the offices of the Department for Education in Whitehall. The tunes were familiar – a spot of James Bond and East Enders – but the way the pupils from St Mark’s Academy in Mitcham learned them was not. Complete beginners in September, the guitarists had been taking lessons from members of the Sixth Form at King’s College School, Wimbledon, whose wide-ranging partnership with a group of maintained schools and academies in South-West London prompted an invitation to present its work to the Minister.
Beginning as an Independent-State School Partnership funded by the government in 2003, the Wimbledon Partnership has endured its fair share of crises over the years, not least the withdrawal of government funding in 2008. But the School’s decision to take over the funding itself on the basis of the mutual benefits which flow from working across the sectors has enhanced the lives of countless members of staff and pupils at the partner schools over the years. And after its first ten years, the Partnership is in excellent shape.
The eight secondary schools in the Partnership (four maintained schools, three academies and King’s) share teacher-training arrangements and mentoring for new Heads of Department. Teachers attend management courses together, and two members of the King’s staff are governors at partner schools, which is one of the best ways for schools to develop close and trusting relationships. King’s also runs a special scheme for pupils on Free School Meals, who experience a four-year programme of inspirational sessions and visits culminating in a Preparing for University Day. Over 180 GCSE students attend after-school revision lessons taught by our staff in the term before their exams, and the School provides extension classes for pupils applying to top universities and medical schools.
The Partnership is reinforced by the contribution of pupil volunteers. Of the three hundred and fifty King’s pupils who volunteer to do a community project every Friday afternoon in term-time, at least a third are involved in activities involving the partner schools. From the teaching of Maths, Science, Chinese, Latin, French and English as an Additional Language to younger children to the development of a play with partner school pupils of their own age, there is something for every sort of teenage volunteer. Adolescents love teaching, and the activities often reinforce the knowledge of school subjects while teaching them leadership and communication skills. Moreover, the experience of teaching younger children often has the effect of increasing the self-esteem of less confident boys and girls.
Doubts about the scheme’s benefits were swept aside by the warmth with which the Head Teachers of the maintained schools spoke about the Partnership at the presentation in Whitehall. According to Chris Mallaband, Principal of St Mark’s Academy, ‘St. Mark's was a school in an Ofsted category where things were pretty tough going. Working with King’s has been an important strand in helping to raise student and staff aspiration. It has been refreshing to work with King’s within a partnership of equals and I feel that the benefits have been genuinely two-way. Our students and staff have loved the work that they have done and experienced a slice of life they knew little about.’ At Ricards Lodge High School, where members of our Sixth Form provide Maths coaching every Friday, GCSE Maths results have shot up from 58% of pupils obtaining A-C grades to 73% in the last four years. Good GCSE results (A-C in five subjects including English and Maths) have risen from 49 to 63% across the seven maintained schools and academies over the last four years.
King’s has no objection to the creation of academies and free schools; in fact, it is supporting the new Sixth Form Mathematics School which its alma mater, King’s College, London, is opening. But the extensive and varied independent-state school partnership it co-ordinates continues to develop and flourish. In the words of the Head Master of King’s, Andrew Halls: “Our model enables an independent school to work closely and share good practice with one or more local maintained schools and support them in flexible and mutually inspirational ways. These schools may be academies or they might be long established in the area, and ready to benefit from shared good practice and the formation of a close and trusting relationship with another local school.”
So to the Wimbledon Partnership, many happy returns!