‘Altiora peto.” So my old school motto went – “I strive for the heights.” I always wanted to tack on another few words to that phrase so that my success was not at the expense of others, rather to bring them with me. “I strive so that we may all reach the heights,” would have more accurately portrayed my life-philosophy. This is real social mobility.
As someone fortunate to have been brought up with a hunger for voluntary work, I love to hear stories of the unsung heroes who give up their time and talents to help any who would benefit. In running a school, I have a simple rationale for supporting as many children, from every background, as we can – in that I encourage personal partnerships by as many staff as possible who have a heart to give further. We call it ‘time and talents’ – staff make a huge difference in their local home communities, volunteering in as diverse a set of activities such as school governance, Brownies and Scouts, toddler groups, cricket clubs, Sunday school groups and children’s holiday camps. I daresay a staff of 80 can have a big impact on thousands of children in any given year, one-way or another. These aspects of partnership are real, transformational and add so richly to our community as the staff benefit from being part of each group, so bring those ideas and personal development back into school.
Partnership has to be two-way. After all, why can’t we all strive for the heights at the same time? As someone privileged to have found a north-west London independent-state school partnership scheme in 2011, it was incredible to see the input from all types of schools and colleges to a programme just called ‘Aspiration – aim higher’. Every child on that course gained from being part of a wider group, and contributed richly to the partnership, as did the staff from across independent and state schools.
All independent schools offer transformational bursary places, alongside use of own facilities and staff to coach children from our local communities.
We all have community projects that mean we actively encourage our children to fund-raise for local and international charities, alongside understanding the value of service to our own school community as well as the wider local community as well. Where we see our biggest remit, though, is to provide opportunities for children of all socio-economic backgrounds to attend our schools as we foster diversity, breadth and social mobility. Sometimes, sadly, this huge public benefit is taken for granted or falls on deaf ears, as we are told it doesn’t recognise the many, merely the few.
But what of celebrating independent-state school partnerships? An area our former secretary of state of education, Justine Greening, was so keen to develop. Alongside transformational partnership opportunities, more recently the drive to quantify and celebrate partnership has been brought about by the Schools Together website. This does a great job of capturing diverse and really fruitful offerings, and is evolving to capture the true essence of partnership by quantifying the benefits to groups of children. Unfortunately, not enough is picked up either politically or in the mainstream media to recognise these projects or celebrate the successes.
The elephant in the room is the political bomb hanging over independent schools in potential removal charitable status, imposition of VAT on fees or removal of business rates relief. This, surely, is the greatest challenge and threat to partnership and the social mobility dream.
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