In the Independent Schools Council’s (ISC) Celebrating Partnerships 2020 report, chairman Barnaby Lenon talks of a “blossoming” of partnerships between state and independent schools in recent years.
He explains how the most successful partnerships tend to have the same characteristics; they are voluntary, they have clear aims and they have committed teachers and school staff in charge.
Below are three examples of this in action, from an independent school that sponsors an academy, to educational institutions across a city coming together, to a school being recognised for its wide community engagement.
As opposed to partly sponsoring an academy, Canford provides the majority of the governing body members and is therefore responsible for decisions made about The Bourne Academy. Canford is one of very few independent schools to have formed this type of partnership – Haileybury is another.
Henry Bishop, chair of governors at The Bourne Academy, Richard Knott, former chair of governors and Dr David Neill, deputy head (co-curricular) at Canford, tell me what hitting this milestone means to them.
“It is very satisfying that the faith shown in our original vision (by the LA and Canford governors amongst others) was justified. It is a clear demonstration that two very different schools can work together if they respect what each other can offer,” they say.
“Our main aim was to raise the aspirations of pupils in the very deprived area of East Howe,” they continue. “We were always insistent that The Bourne Academy was for local families – we weren’t going to cherrypick students from outside the area.
“Looking at the exam results, the number of their students now going to university (including several Russell Group) and/or completing the Gold DofE (several were able to meet Prince Edward at Canford recently), we have been very successful and are very proud of everything that the pupils have achieved.”
Some examples of how Canford has worked with The Bourne Academy include helping with teaching and the curriculum when the academy’s sixth form opened, especially in science. Canford has also offered teaching placements for those qualifying as teachers at The Bourne Academy, which has been partially reciprocated for a number of Canford teachers doing the same. The staff at both schools come together for joint inset training days to share ideas.
Canford has invited Bourne pupils to careers events, such as the annual Careers Symposium, and has offered interview practice for entry into higher education and the workplace.
Furthermore, an Educational Partnership Day held annually sees pupils come together from Canford, The Bourne Academy and other schools, for a variety of activities aimed at sparking discussion and discovering different career options.
Canford also offers a number of heavily subsidised sixth form places each year to Bourne pupils. Canford sixth formers spend Monday afternoons with pupils at The Bourne Academy, supporting year 10 and 11 maths and science students who are on the 4/5 borderline.
During the pandemic the collaboration has continued, with Canford able to share remote learning solutions and experiences with the academy, including a joint training session on using Microsoft Teams. Canford also shared access to speakers delivering talks online with pupils at the academy, and one Canford parent spearheaded digital support providing reconditioned laptops to academy pupils who did not have access to them at home.
Bishop, Knott and Neill explain what makes the partnership successful: “It never set out to be something that ticked a box for the government; it was always something that interested us and we wanted to do well. Very regular contact between the schools has been important.”
It never set out to be something that ticked a box for the government; it was always something that interested us and we wanted to do well
Offering enough time and support is key, according to Bishop, Knott and Neill, and they explain how the partnership requires a large commitment from the chair of governors, and others on the board, including the headmaster. In addition, many teaching staff at Canford have contributed to the relationship.
“We are looking forward to the second 10 years and continuing to build and strengthen the links between the two schools,” say Bishop, Knott and Neill.
They continue: “The main areas of focus will be on pupil activities, particularly in the co-curricular fields, and staff development with more joint inset days and more links at department level. The Bourne Academy has ambitious plans for its sixth form and collaboration with the Canford sixth form should increase still further, supporting more academy students in applications to Russell Group universities.
“The increased experience of remote teaching and running activities for pupils non physically has also highlighted opportunities for more joint activities between the schools, which makes for an exciting collaborative future.”
There is a newer partnership in Bristol making waves. Set up in 2019, the Bristol Education Partnership (BEP) has made its four key priorities clear: overcoming disadvantage, raising aspirations, broadening education and inspiring staff. Working together are four state secondary schools, five independent schools, a sixth form college, two universities and the council.
Badminton School, a boarding and day school for girls in Bristol, is one of the original members of the partnership. Abigail Skyrme-Jones, higher education and partnerships coordinator at the school, tells me that their work with the BEP has been a “huge focus” during the pandemic to ensure young people across the city still had access to new opportunities.
“Luckily, as so many of the events could be held remotely, most activities and the work of the BEP could continue,” says Skyrme-Jones. “Some elements were of course impacted but everyone throughout the BEP has been so resourceful and put in the extra time and effort to ensure the work could continue as smoothly as possible.”
Badminton School is working with partner schools on a range of projects currently, including sharing and collaborating on climate change education.
Skyrme-Jones explains: “This involved student representatives from all schools meeting virtually via Zoom. Our representatives, from the school’s eco group, found the event highly enjoyable and educational, hearing from many sustainable companies based here in Bristol.”
In addition, the schools are coming together to discuss decolonising the curriculum and careers advice. Schools have been welcomed at Badminton School’s virtual events, including a careers and opportunities fair, and a series of lectures from professionals such as medics and motivational speakers.
Skyrme-Jones believes the hard work of everyone involved makes the partnership a success. She says: “All stakeholders put in maximum effort to get the best out of it for young people across Bristol.
“It is a collaboration and so no one stakeholder holds precedent above any other – as it should be – and all communication is open and honest when discussing the viability of events/programmes and the work of the BEP. It really is a great community to be a part of. We look forward to being a part of BEP for the foreseeable.”
Engaging with the entire community
In Yorkshire, Pocklington School was recently recognised for its engagement with its local community and schools. The co-educational day and boarding school won the Educate North Community Engagement Award (Schools) in April. Headmaster Toby Seth says making a commitment to this type of engagement is “central” to who they are as a school.
Pocklington School has created a schools outreach programme, a student community action programme and also supports Chatta, an early years initiative focused on communication and language skills.
The schools outreach programme began following discussions with headteachers at several schools to assess areas of need and is reviewed annually to adapt to changing situations. It involves working with 25 infant, junior and senior schools in the local area, to share experience, facilities and expertise.
Activities include an annual primary schools maths challenge, science competitions, DT workshops, sports masterclasses, mock interviews for medical and veterinary students, and symposiums for GCSE and A-level students.
In addition, several members of staff are governors in maintained sector schools, with many assisting in community projects.
The school makes sure that its fee assistance scheme is promoted widely throughout the area to encourage those from disadvantaged backgrounds to apply for a place.
As part of the student community action programme, pupils visit local primary schools to assist in classrooms, visit senior citizens and residents in day care centres, and volunteer for conservation projects.
Students also raise funds for local and international charities, and take part in a bi-annual expedition to Southern Africa to complete building renovation work.
Furthermore, Pocklington School hosts and is the development partner of Chatta. The school supports the use of the app, which encourages pupils to review and improve their oral language and fluency, in the wider community. Seth says the Educate North award will “serve as motivation to continue this work well into the future”, making it clear there is plenty more community engagement to come from this independent school.
Now, these are just a handful of examples of partnerships happening across the sector; you can see many more on the Schools Together website. But I think the most important thing to take away from this, and what will have started all of these partnerships, is to talk. As Andrew Lewer MBE, chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Independent Education, says in ISC’s report: “I would encourage all my colleagues to talk to their local schools, and visit when they are able.”
And with new opportunities opening up with the help of technology, I imagine there will be many more partnerships developing over the coming years.