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Fruitful and Beneficial Partnership

Posted on: 11 Mar 2014
Posted by: Barnaby Lenon

It is vital for independent schools to continue their support for partnerships with local state schools, says Barnaby Lenon, Chairman, Independent Schools Council.

It is perhaps not often that you hear a schoolboy enthuse about his Latin lessons and say how grateful he is to have been given the opportunity to study the subject. But that was what one 15 year old boy stood up to say a few weeks ago, at the Independent State School Partnership Conference. Indeed, he said he enjoyed the subject so much he was now seriously considering studying Classics at university. He was unusual in more ways than one – not only in his passion for a subject many today now question the value of, but because he was a pupil at a school where Latin was not actually on the curriculum. He had the opportunity to study it because his school was a member of the City of York Schools Independent State Schools Partnership – a partnership between eight state and three independent schools in York, set up in 2007. Lord Nash (Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Schools) referred to York ISSP as “an excellent example of partnership working”. Indeed it looks set to change at least one boy’s life.

But strangely, there has been much written in the press of late about the alleged ‘Berlin Wall’ between our schools and those in the maintained sector. Michael Wilshaw, the Chief Inspector of Schools, has even accused our schools of working in ‘splendid isolation’ and referred to the work our schools carry out with colleagues in the maintained sector as “crumbs from the table”. This is palpably nonsense.

The City of York ISSP is not unusual – far from it. There are very many examples and indeed Head after Head from all over the country stood up at that Conference, run interestingly enough, by the Department for Education, who wanted to celebrate and discuss the work of partnerships between the two sectors.

Indeed over 90% of ISC independent schools work in fruitful and beneficial partnership with their local communities or neighbouring maintained schools. And many have been doing this for years. We do it because we want to. It is important and it is in our schools very ethos. Most of our school’s have charitable status and some come from long established traditions of charitable foundation. Helping and sharing with our neighbours in the community is part of our schools’ DNA. Thirty of our schools sponsor academies – I myself am Chairman of the Governors at the London Academy of Excellence in Newham, East London, a deprived area where there was a dearth of aspirational sixth form provision for local children. The Academy is sponsored and closely modelled on eight independent schools, including Eton, Brighton and Highgate. We are proud that six of our students have just received offers from Oxbridge.

Through partnerships, our schools work with maintained schools to offer GCSE revision classes, classes in subjects not on offer at some maintained schools, university entrance workshops and mock interviews, aspiration programmes, support and coaching with music, drama, sport. The list is endless. For example, Sheffield High School run the ‘Cool to be Clever’ programme which identifies some of the brightest but most socially and economically disadvantaged Year 4 children and provides support and mentoring to enable them to maximise their potential. In London, King’s College School have a highly developed partnership programme with seven maintained schools where students and staff offer support and coaching in subjects ranging from maths GCSE to guitar. The Partnership has been running for ten years and indeed at Coombe Boy’s School, the effect on results has been impressive. As the partnership has developed through a series of incremental steps over the years, so results have crept up. In 2004, 35 % of boys were gaining A*-C in five good GCSEs including English and Maths. By 2013, it had jumped to 70%. And of course most schools share their facilities with their neighbours and indeed can be important hubs in their communities. At Giglgeswick School, in the heart of rural Yorkshire, their Theatre Community hub forms an important part of local cultural entertainment and hosts children’s dance and adult zumba classes, the local Rotary Club, Giggleswick Choral Society, the Herdwyck Consort, Settle and Giggleswick Brass Band, Skipton Community Orchestra, Hallé Youth Choir and Orchestra and North Yorkshire Schools Symphony Orchestra. But these partnerships are a two way street. They provide opportunities for staff across both sectors to share teaching ideas and best practice, as well as sharing facilities and resources. For example, the Blackwater Consortium in Maldon, Essex is a partnership of an independent prep school, eight primary schools and a secondary Academy. It has been running for over twelve years and this year it is the turn of Loraine Guest, Head teacher at Maldon Court Preparatory School, to host a staff training day for 160 teachers. The Blackwater Consortium also has joint staff development including Headteachers’ Appraisals, SEN conferences and Teaching Assistant courses. They discuss changes in education, behaviour and discipline and look at data and moderation across the schools, with the goal of raising standards across the group. The children are brought together to share experience across the curriculum, from History projects to Music Festivals and even school councils.

So it should be no surprise to find out that in the Select Committee on Education fourth report last November, MPs recommended that the government should put more seed money into these partnerships. Partnerships between independent schools and maintained schools are flourishing and we should continue to do all we can to support and encourage them .It is vital for independent schools to continue their support for partnerships with local state schools.

Published in Independent Schools Magazine.

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About Barnaby Lenon

Barnaby Lenon is Chairman of ISC.