A recent paper, published by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Independent Education gave a comprehensive account of what independent schools across the country are capable of doing to support the delivery of curriculum alongside others in their locality. There are undoubtedly many ways in which thoughtful local collaboration can bestow benefits on pupils outside of the doors of these schools; an increasing number are doing so and with growing ambition. However to focus purely on this, especially in the current political climate, is surely missing two significant factors: the voice and the expertise of the maintained sector schools themselves.
Both sectors have a great deal to gain from partnership work if it is undertaken in a spirit of co-design and implementation. Harvard Professor Robert Putnam has published extensively on the idea of ‘Social Capital’ and describes how local networks add value socially, educationally and economically through norms of reciprocity. The schools with whom we work, on our own doorstep, are attended by many talented young people who are taught by dedicated and knowledgeable professionals and the exchange of knowledge and resource is a valuable local asset.
The cross-sector experience of the Oundle, Peterborough and East Northants (OPEN) Learning Partnership pays testament to the potential of such links for the benefit of all, regardless of which educational institution a pupil attends. Kim Homard-Roy, Deputy Head at Prince William School and Chair of the OPEN LP, and I hosted our local Labour parliamentary candidate recently for a tour of the schools in our partnership (and have extended an invitation to the Conservative candidate also) – headline politics was not on the agenda; demonstrating the potential of local cross-sector collaboration very much was.
Academic and Social Development of Pupils
The OPEN Learning Partnership aims to ‘provide opportunities for pupils to work with and be challenged by pupils of similar ability and interest’. The objective is seeking ways for pupils to work peer-to-peer rather than expert-to-novice and in so doing, promote academic challenge and mutually beneficial social experience. We are grateful to our partners at Kettering Buccleuch Academy who recently hosted the entire Oundle School First Form alongside their own Year 7 for a full day of rocket car engineering and MUN-style debating. These enriching opportunities allowed our pupils to explore design and aerodynamics, public speaking and world affairs in a school context different to their own. Feedback from Oundle pupils reflected the warm welcome they received, the kindness of their hosts and the high quality of school they were visiting: the experience fostered respect and appreciation.
OPEN Mathematics conferences have been running for 7 years, attended by all four of the formal OPEN partners but also up to 12 additional schools from a wider network. At these, Oundle’s own capable mathematicians are able to broaden their subject knowledge and the contexts in which it can be applied alongside a talented local peer group and be taught by outstanding teachers drawn from across the partnership.
Our primary school network is also active, in both academic and musical activity; Oundle’s Laxton Junior School (LJS) attended the ‘Oundle Sings’ event with five local primaries and a Brass day earlier in the year, having the chance to learn and perform together with neighbouring schools. A Maths event, a Forest School day and a musical masterclass led by the Royal College of Music were also on offer for the primary schools. These peer-to-peer interactions encourage all pupils to raise their game, to learn to work together, to understand the capabilities of those from other schools and develop a confidence gained from a breadth of social and cultural experience.
Professional Collaboration and Staff Networks
These activities, and many others, are part of an extensive programme which now reaches over 12,000 young people each year. Planning and delivery of these is a joint enterprise alongside the staff of the partner schools. Of the six sessions at the most recent Maths conference, four were delivered by state sector partners and two by an independent school. Thomas Deacon Academy especially has been a driving force in facilitating content for pupils and teachers since 2017: to play down their expertise and contribution to pupils outside their own doors would be doing them a grave injustice.
The OPEN STEM Festival in July which reached over 3500 young people with a mix of STEM workshop days, residential programmes, community shows and roving events visiting schools, was very much a joint offer with support from OPEN state secondary schools, including the secondment of a member of science staff for a full week. Such collaboration vastly increases the number of pupils that we can provide opportunity for in such events.
”By working together, we put education not institution at the heart of what we offer to all.”
During the year, it is the joint work of all partners to staff university trips to London, Family Science afternoons, athletics events and more for the benefit of all pupils and the wider community. We are ambitious in seeking to impact upon as many children as we can but it could not be achieved without the contributions of our state sector colleagues who give of their time and expertise. By working together, we put education not institution at the heart of what we offer to all.
As a teaching profession, our professional practice, knowledge and skills improve by working alongside outstanding practitioners. Although teaching is not unique in this aspect, the partnership work that we undertake has opened the doors to bring expertise into all our schools from new quarters – partners and experts who are drawn to the OPEN approach to education that seeks to impact upon as many young people as we can, from all backgrounds, and using our local network to do so.
During the lockdown, the OPEN LP launched ExpertEdLive bringing speakers to classrooms and homes through newly popularised technology. Speakers from the House of Lords, Imperial College London, WWF and Mercedes were offered to pupils at Oundle, prep schools and state sector schools alike. The programme has continued with the support of a group of like-minded schools and regular hosts include those from Swansea University and from Oundle CE Primary School – a truly broad network.
We often have visiting presenters who speak at both Oundle School and partner schools. We were delighted to have Iain Holmes, Assistant Principal at Kettering Buccleuch Academy and astronomy expert, give a lecture on the James Webb Telescope to an assembly hall of Oundelians and visitors whilst Colin Baxter from the Thomas Deacon Education Trust was the keynote speaker for the Oundle School training day last year. Visiting speakers James Shone, Alex Bellos and Prof Lewis Dartnell presented at schools from both sectors. Through our local network, we have access to more knowledge and expertise than ever before, and all pupils, Oundelians and our neighbours, gain from these opportunities.
Benefits for All?
Supporting the children of our local area is something that all schools should be proud to do and should be pleased to give in proportion to their resource. The objective must be to provide educational opportunity to as many children as we are able, to work together and to draw on all of the local resource to do so, in whichever school or sector that exists, working to build a network which is well connected and robust.
We must have both the confidence to share what we possess that is of real quality but also to have the humility to respect the talents of our neighbours and to seek to learn from their knowledge whether we are pupils or teachers. Access to this expertise and experience grows our social capital and helps us to provide a broad and balanced curriculum that will help to develop well-rounded individuals; this is surely where the true value of cross-sector partnership is to be found.
Deputy Head Partnerships and Outreach