Interview: Sharing success

Editor Stephanie Broad talks to the head of Haileybury about the opening of their new academy, Haileybury Turnford

Tell us a little about Haileybury.

Haileybury’s been going since 1862, it’s a co-ed boarding for ages 11 to 18. We offer IB diploma as well as the A-level curriculum, and we have 139 different activities, clubs and societies – there’s a lot of co-curricular opportunities.

How did you go from working in partnership with Turnford School to making the leap to academy sponsorship?

We started working with Turnford because it was suggested to us by one of our parents, who is a local MP and knows Turnford well. They recommended that we work with one another, because the head there was looking for additional input to help raise standards, broaden the curriculum and help pupils appreciate the spiritual side of life as well. For two or three years we worked closely with Turnford, then their governors approached us and asked if we would like to take it over as an academy. We had a discussion at the Haileybury governors’ meeting, and we decided we’d go for it. 

Were there any challenges involved in the sponsorship?

There were challenges due to the technical detail involved, including the transfer of land and responsibility for buildings; a lot of negotiation needs to take place between the new sponsors (Haileybury), the DfE and Hertfordshire County Council. Everyone was very keen on this happening, they were very supportive. It’s always going to go down to the wire, though, and it was only about a week before the start of term that we finally reached an agreement on all the technical details. We were having to plan for the beginning of the year without knowing if it was going to go through, but we got there and we’re all really thrilled about it.

Head of Haileybury Turnford, Jo Gant

Was there any change to the governance structure?

The existing governance structure of Turnford stepped down and we formed a trust with a new governing body. We have a broad range of governors, some of whom are parents, members of staff, parents and former pupils. When they asked us to help them improve by becoming an academy, we said yes but we need some local inside knowledge as well. So we have local governors – people who know the area of Turnford well. It’s important to have people who are embedded in the local community who can offer advice – the last thing we want to do is look as if we’ve come striding in to tell them what to do. We want to work with the local community to make this the best school we can.

What can the school offer Haileybury Turnford and vice versa?

What we can offer is an ethos and a history of success on the academic side of things. For example, at Turnford we have established a supervised prep session, like a homework session, which is incorporated into the school day, like we have here. That means it’s no problem for teachers chasing up homework as it’s all done in school time. The school day has been extended by an hour, and as independent schools favour a house-based system rather than a year group-based system, Turnford has moved to a house system.

We believe the pupils show their very best when they are well known by a housemaster/mistress, who gets to watch them develop over five years. It also gives them a sense of loyalty to something more than themselves. In a house system your aspirations are set, in part, by elder pupils rather than your peers, and we think this is really important in terms of role-modelling. The younger pupils can learn a lot from mixing with and observing older pupils.

Are there any facilities or activities that are shared between the schools?

There are activities that have been shared since before the academisation. For example, we work with Turnford and another state school on a cadet force, which is a very good thing for teamwork, leadership and self-discipline. A number of our pupils travel from Haileybury down to Turnford once a week and lead some of their younger pupils in different activities down there, and the most able Turnford pupils come here for Oxbridge discussions and mock interviews. Students are also invited to come for lectures.

From our point of view, we found it invaluable to work with Turnford teachers on our use and interpretation of pupil data. The state sector is very good at gathering data and using it to help track pupils and drive improvement. We found that useful for our own systems – it’s very much a two-way street.

The Haileybury quad

What does the future look like for this partnership?

We’re concentrating mainly, for the first year, on building relationships. We have a vision, and the vision for Haileybury Turnford isn’t any different from the main site. Firstly, we want all pupils to fulfil their academic potential and secure their places at the most appropriate further or higher education institution. Secondly, we want them to have the life skills that will enable them to attract employers – social skills, the ability to get on with a range of people and teamwork skills in particular. Finally, the moral values someone has when they leave school. Pupils should leave with all those things: the values, life skills and qualifications to take them on to the next stage of their education.

It’s still early days, but in my experience it’s been thrilling to work with another school. I would say that other schools should seriously think about it because it’s a stimulating thing and it not only brings you benefit but you are also doing something for a broad section of society. One of Haileybury’s former pupils is Clement Atlee, the former prime minister. No other English public school has produced a Labour prime minister; we’re very proud of him and we think he reflects our approach in that he was someone who devoted his life to helping people who were perhaps less fortunate than he was. 

What one piece of advice would you give another independent school who is thinking of doing the same?

Stick with it – through thick and thin, because there are some thin bits as well as thick bits.

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