‘Refocus on partnerships’: key message at top independent school’s conference

Brighton College’s Education Conference brought together school leaders and influential speakers, with one of the main takeaways being a drive on partnerships with state schools

The parliamentary under secretary of state has urged senior leaders at independent schools to re-focus on the partnerships they have with the state school sector.

Speaking at Brighton College’s Education Conference, Lord Agnew said: “Challenge yourself to re-focus on partnerships, either consider what you can be doing or extend what you’re already doing.”

He gave the example of The London Academy of Excellence, a free school, which was established in 2012 with the help of Brighton College, and was named in 2016 as The Sunday Times’ Sixth Form College of the Year.

Sharing facilities and holding joint events are key to successful partnerships, he said, as well as having joint classes to allow state schools to benefit from the independent school sector’s “world-class teachers”.

He also encouraged teachers to get older independent school pupils to mentor younger state school pupils.

He said: “I think this is the most powerful strategy. It’s very important for the independent school pupils, who are very privileged, to work with different people. And children learn more from peers a few years older than them than any of us!”

He reassured the teachers: “This is not about placing an unreasonable burden on you. There has to be something in it for the independent school too.”

Lord Agnew

Brighton College, which was named Independent School of the Year 2019 by The Sunday Times, held its annual conference on 2 May. The college invited heads of schools, policymakers and more to the school to share ideas and discuss challenges ahead.

Richard Cairns, headmaster of Brighton College, welcomed delegates to the college, speaking highly of its pupils, who don’t go without their own challenges. For example, the boys’ rugby team have received homophobic abuse at away games on the grounds that ‘they’re from Brighton’ – something the boys continue to challenge by showing their support for Stonewall and participating in Pride parades.

Cairns went on to discuss politics: “The divide now is by far the greatest politically. Pupils feel disillusioned.”

He highlighted three issues most important to his pupils: the environment, education and inter-generational fairness. One solution the pupils thought of?

A high-profile minister for young people who attends cabinet, dealing with inter-generational fairness issues.

Channel 4 News presenter Cathy Newman took to the stage next to discuss her new book Bloody Brilliant Women. Seeing how thin on the ground women were in history lessons and the struggle women have had to be educated, as well as her own personal experience challenging the gender pay gap in journalism, Newman’s book highlights the women not taught about in history lessons.

She said: “I’m confident things will be different for professional women of the future. The ones you teach. That’s what I hope this book will contribute to. I feel like the culture is changing and Me Too was a turning point.

“I wish I had banged the drum harder for women’s rights in my earlier career.”

Cathy Newman

The delegates also heard from Barnaby Lenon, chair of the Independent Schools Council, who rebutted against arguments put forward in Engines of Privilege: Britain’s Private School Problem. Attendees were also lucky enough to hear from Colin Jackson OBE, sports commentator and former athlete. He suggested ways in which we can help young people feel more accepted and detailed his own journey.

With a mix of independent school experts and inspirational famous faces, Brighton College’s Education Conference allowed teachers to ask burning questions and voice their concerns, as well as let off some well-deserved steam for their hard work.

Colin Jackson and Richard Cairns

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