Independent school partnerships: a winning combination

Lucinda Reid talks to headteachers about how their independent schools are working in partnership with the local community

Last month, the Department of Education announced that it will step up its plans for more independent schools to support state schools. When I heard this news I was flabbergasted. This year, I have attended conferences focusing on all areas of the education sector, and the one thing that has always stuck in my mind is how independent schools are regularly working with state schools. They aren’t forming these partnerships because the government tells them to do so, they want to work with their local community. 

Take Reigate Grammar School as an example. They have been key players in their local community for many years as they have a partnerships programme, which engages local schools in a range of subjects, from sport to drama. 

“We have a variety of sports partnerships,” explained Shaun Fenton, Headteacher of Reigate Grammar School. “For example, we started a hockey outreach programme with Reigate Priory Junior School and then their hockey team went on to win the district championships. Many of the students now come to our summer schools and we invite hundreds of students to use our sports ground for a summer sports event. We also have programmes related to drama, geography, music and Latin!” 

Recently, Reigate hosted an orchestra day and invited pupils from local primary schools. This partnership highlighted the positive impact for both the local community and pupils at Reigate Grammar. During this event, Reigate Grammar senior pupils mentored the visiting students and at the end of the day everyone played together in a large orchestra. 

“This is important as the students can see what it means to make a difference,” said Shaun. “It gives them leadership opportunities and a chance to work with people from other communities so that they can develop social confidence. It’s a win-win really.” 

An opportunity for local pupils to play in an orchestra

For Reigate Grammar School, these partnerships are engrained in their ethos and values, so they will continue to work with state schools. This term they are planning a production of The History Boys and will invite their local partners to see the production. Similarly to their sports and music partnerships, Reigate Grammar School hope their theatrical performance will excite and inspire others. 

To ensure that their partnerships continue to flourish, Shaun is determined to keep a strong relationship with their local state schools as he explained that authenticity is key. 

“I have been a Head of two state schools and also an independent school and I think there are differences in the sectors. But, there are many more things that we have in common. We’re helping to look after young people and preparing the country’s next generation of leaders. These partnerships work better when they are authentic, as unless they are genuine relationships, they’re not going to be sustainable.” 

Luckily, independent schools across the country are creating genuine relationships, something which Shaun, who is also chair-elect of HMC, has seen first-hand. 

“Independent schools have always been doing this [partnerships] and more, but unfortunately it is the best-kept secret of the sector. It is almost impossible to find an independent school that isn’t working in partnership with sections of its local community. Independent schools have been doing this for generations and they do it because it’s part of the school’s identity.” 

So, it seems the government should worry less about stepping up and more about keeping up with independent schools and their progressive partnerships.  


We have local and global responsibility, says Ben Evans, Headmaster of Edge Grove School 

Regular and purposeful community engagement is essential for all independent schools. It is no longer enough to open the school grounds for a local church fete once a year or to let the local football team use the sports pitches for events. Today, independent schools have to be a lot more far-reaching and worthwhile with their efforts in the local community.  

Independent schools must recognise their charitable status and add real value to their local community. Living in a privileged bubble with no local links is not acceptable. Any good school is a community of pupils, staff and parents where all stakeholders feel valued, safe and part of something bigger with strong links between all elements. This has to extend into the local community for the school to have a purposeful position and to ensure a sense of genuine and real community spirit.

Forward-thinking and reflective schools are always looking to improve and to do what they do better. Schools that are actively involved in the local community will have access to professional support and expertise not otherwise available. They will have people willing to be involved as governors, advisors, visiting speakers, sports coaches and enrichment providers (for pupils and staff) which will allow for and ensure, constant improvement and provide a much richer experience for the pupils.  

Likewise, the community will benefit from the school as an organisation; facilities, coaching, charitable giving, school-to-school support and so much more. The possibilities are only limited by a lack of vision or willingness to get more involved. At Edge Grove we have worked hard to form partnerships with schools, sports clubs, theatre groups and the Parish Council.  As the headmaster I am also a local parish councillor and sit on the Community Engagement and Development Committee actively ensuring that the school is an integral part of the community.  

‘With cuts to local education and an increasing need to justify charitable status independent schools should be actively seeking to be increasingly involved in the community.’

Recent events have included hosting a Question Time event with a panel of local dignitaries including the MP for the Parish Youth Council and hosting Christmas carol concerts and tea for the local elderly community.  The school has formed strong links with a local multi academy trust and provides a member of staff to deliver weekly PE lessons and staff training as well as music teaching and hosting termly sports events.  

Other links have been reciprocal too, staff training and observation of good pedagogical practice. Edge Grove is a sponsor for the local musical theatre groups who rehearse and stage productions in the school theatre free of charge. The neighbouring primary school also uses the school pool for swimming lessons and the local cricket club use the school pitches and provide first-class coaching for the school teams. The upper school pupils and staff also ran a number of games and creative art activities previously as part of the local Radlett Festival in our village.

With cuts to local education and an increasing need to justify charitable status independent schools should be actively seeking to be increasingly involved in the community. One of our guiding principles is local and global responsibility and it is essential for us as a school to demonstrate to the pupils how important it is for us to support and be involved in the local community. We teach by doing, demonstrating and including pupils in the partnership with the community. This must become the norm for all schools so that children grow up seeing such support as being a normal part of life, especially when we as independent schools are in such a privileged position. 


Partnerships benefit all, says the Headmaster of Sherfield School, Nick Fisher

When I joined Sherfield School as Headmaster earlier this year, one of my priorities was to not only maintain, but improve the school’s links to the local community. 

That was because I believe successful partnership between an independent school and its community to be one of the most important ingredients to that school’s success. And those partnerships are not only of benefit to the school, but also of benefit to the community as a whole.

One of the most mutually beneficial partnerships an independent school can foster is with a local state school. Cross-sector engagement between pupils can help to break down social barriers and prejudice on both sides. Pupils in both sectors can become more confident and gain increased knowledge of citizenship and social injustice.

Engagement through independent state school partnerships not only helps all pupils involved but also impacts on staff aspirations and leadership skills. Professional development opportunities can extend to technicians, support staff and teachers shadowing leadership staff in other schools and taking part in staff exchanges. Providing schools with teacher professional development courses and personal support between heads of department can also work both ways, with independent school staff learning from colleagues in the state sector.  

Independent schools should encourage parents and experienced staff to be governors in state schools. Such connections can further help promote cross-fertilisation of ideas and ensure the independent sector continues to challenge our status quo. 

At Sherfield, our pupils also benefit from community partnerships as a result of our Partnerships Programme. The programme gives our most talented pupils access to the facilities and expertise of local clubs, including dance, equestrian, flying and golf. The scheme allows us to accommodate the ambitions of the most talented pupils, while simultaneously ensuring they receive a strong academic education. 

‘Engagement through independent state school partnerships not only helps all pupils involved but also impacts on staff aspirations and leadership skills.’

In terms of benefits of community partnership for the community itself, the first and most basic is that independent schools provide a source of employment for local people, often at competitive rates of pay. This can go beyond the school’s own staff, for example with the hiring of building contractors, sports coaches or maintenance specialists such as a local gardening business. Naturally, this in turn supports the local economy and other businesses within it.

Independent schools often have top-class facilities that can be hired out to local community groups at charitable rates. Those same facilities can also play host to events organised by the school itself. For example, at Sherfield, we have parent group Friends of Sherfield, a registered charity in its own right and a dynamic community of parents committed to organising social events hosted at school, and to raising funds for local charities. These events provide excellent opportunities for engaging with our local residents and helping to establish a supportive relationship.  

The final by-product of community partnership that I want to highlight is creativity. Creativity flourishes with connections. When I started connecting with local schools, some of my most creative teaching periods took place, such as a collaboration between The Ogden Trust, a charity that aims to increase the uptake of Physics at post-16, and state and independent schools in Cornwall. The partnership led to the creation of mutually supportive staff training programmes and pupil conferences. I have always found these relationships mutually beneficial, providing many opportunities for sharing enthusiasm, ideas and expertise.   


UWC Atlantic College makes a life-saving contribution, says its Principal, Peter T. Howe

As a residential international school that brings together over 350 students from across the globe, it would be easy for the UWC Atlantic College campus to become a bubble, isolated from our neighbouring communities here in South Wales. But, as the founder of the United World Colleges movement, that’s simply not a scenario we can  entertain. 

Allowing our students to realise the necessity and power of community is a core element of UWC life, and it’s the reason you may find yourself speaking to a UWC Atlantic College student the next time you visit a Welsh beach. While our students can pursue numerous co-curricular activities, one that sets UWC Atlantic College apart is the opportunity for students to train and actively serve as qualified lifeguards alongside members of the RNLI.

Our links with the RNLI go back to the earliest days of our college, when in 1973 the patent for the rigid hull inflatable boat (RIB), created by Rear-Admiral Desmond Hoare, was donated to the RNLI for £1. As students had played a part in the building and testing of that design, it was a natural progression for college students to staff an active inshore lifeboat service from our college campus to the Bristol Channel coastline. Later, as the RNLI upgraded to bigger boats, 2013 saw students switch their service to beach lifeguarding.     

Today, UWC Atlantic College students can be found safeguarding nine beaches across South Wales. While lifeguarding might conjure heroic, maybe even glamorous scenes to mind, the fact is that this is a serious undertaking for students. In addition to their academic studies they are making a commitment to hard training and the responsibility to serve, educate, and protect others. 

Lifeguarding gives students an authentic responsibility

To serve alongside the RNLI, our students must train under the National Vocational Beach Lifeguarding framework. Their duties extend beyond rescuing those in distress in the water. As lifeguards, they are tasked with helping to educate those in their community, so they may better protect themselves. This an opportunity for them to interact with people from all walks of life and practise the qualities of service we as a college seek to inspire. 

This interaction not only allows our students to get a better understanding of the communities they have joined during their two-years at the College, it’s a chance for members of that local community to better understand our college’s mission to make education a force for peace and a more sustainable future.         

Over the years the contribution made by these students is significant, and I think all will agree they have been rewarded with the experiences they have received in return. For some their reasons for wanting to serve and protect others is very personal. This includes Tomas Alvarez-Belon (Class of 2013), whose desire to volunteer as a lifeguard stemmed from his own personal experience of being washed out to sea during the 2004 tsunami in Thailand.     

Lifeguarding is just one approach to learning at UWC Atlantic College that aims to encourage and nurture values of leadership in students, which we hope they will convert into transformative leadership roles back in their home communities. Facilitating such activities allows us to give students authentic responsibility to make their own decisions and actions. In this way, UWC Atlantic College continues the spirit of the educational revolution our founder Kurt Hahn started over 50 years ago.  


Glenalmond College

Glenalmond College has a long history of successfully working in partnership with local community organisations, disadvantaged young people and other schools in the area.

Glenalmond staff – and also pupils as part of their community service initiative – work year-round to support other local schools in Perthshire, providing access to specialist teaching, bushcraft skills, orienteering, theatre, music and sporting facilities. Most recently the school has stepped in to share its expertise in expressive arts with local primary schools after council funding cuts in the region.  Glenalmond teachers are providing drama and music workshops that the children would not otherwise now have access to.

The school has excellent sporting facilities which it shares with a number of local clubs and charity bodies. In particular it has a very good relationship with Perthshire Rugby Football Club where the club’s coaches help to upskill Glenalmond coaches and support the school programme throughout Michaelmas term. In the Lent term, the talented young Glenalmond rugby players who are on Scottish Rugby’s National Player Development Pathway will continue to play for Perth U16 and U18 in order to keep their skills progressing. In return, Glenalmond coaches help out with the senior team and other sections within the club. 

When school is out over the summer months, its extensive amenities are used by the Newman Holiday Trust, a voluntary organisation which provides summer holidays for children with special needs.


Manchester Grammar School

There is a good reason why The Manchester Grammar School has one of the highest numbers of pupils involved in partnership projects: it’s great for the school and it is great for the local community.

The school has been working with the community for decades and has partnerships with charitable organisations, sports clubs, primary and secondary schools and sixth form colleges. The school shares facilities and resources and invites partners in, as well as sending pupils into the community: as pupils are keen to sign up for a lunchtime session of  teaching languages, literacy, mathematics or doing sports coaching with local primary schoolchildren.

The Manchester Grammar School can clearly see that the partnerships have powerful benefits on both sides. Schools and charities are gaining valuable support and use of the school’s resources at a time when there is a big funding squeeze. Plus, pupils grow in confidence and learn valuable lessons about coaching and mentoring and how to relate to those older and younger than themselves in unfamiliar contexts which are initially outside of their comfort zone.  

In fact, The MGS Service Pledge challenges pupils to give up their time in service to others. Every boy from Year 7 to 13 is encouraged to give from five to 25 hours of time (depending on their year group) over the course of a year. Last year, pupils donated more than 555 hours of their own time – the equivalent of 70 working days and 13 working weeks in some kind of ‘service’ to others.


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