I was asked recently for a view on the proposed move to levy VAT on school fees, particularly in relation to my role leading Partnerships and Outreach at a leading independent school. I felt uncomfortable being asked for my view, not because I don’t have one but because it feels oddly detached from my role as an educator. I would rather that people were interested in what we actually do than the political background in which we operate. Perhaps it would feel more significant if it were to lead to an impact upon the number of staff available to support our outreach work and the academic enrichment activities that we strive to provide to thousands of local children each year. As a school, the more young people we can offer opportunities to outside our own classrooms, the better for society as a whole and that, therefore, is what we invest our energies in.
One of the attributes which we seek to teach our pupils is gratitude – to be thankful for the simple things in life and for the opportunities that are theirs. The pupils of Oundle School have incredible opportunities to learn and explore areas of interest in the company of capable peers and staff, but the importance of learning to contribute to the lives of others, understanding the society that they live in and appreciating the experiences offered to them should not be underestimated.
Equally, I too am grateful for the opportunities afforded to me in this school; for working with capable, vibrant and, in many cases, inspirational young people and a group of colleagues, many of whom I would describe in similar terms. I am also grateful to be granted the opportunity to utilise the exceptional resources and expertise available here to provide opportunity for many more children than just those enrolled in our school and to collaborate with the best educators amongst the maintained sector schools in our region. Just as we do not expect our pupils to ‘strut’, whilst confident in the quality of what we offer, we need to remain humble enough to know that we can benefit from working alongside other capable educators, many of whom are found in the maintained sector schools nearby. We hope to instil similar values in our pupils, teaching them to respect and learn from their peers in our local partner schools both through opportunities to work together and through recognising the talents and aspirations in many of the young people who learn there.
As a school, the more young people we can offer opportunities to outside our own classrooms, the better for society as a whole and that, therefore, is what we invest our energies in.Gordon Montgomery, Deputy Head Partnerships and Outreach
We value partnership in its truest sense – working shoulder to shoulder with our local schools. Were we simply offering out expertise without expecting or embracing reciprocal skill, the partnership would lack both authenticity and integrity. In recent months, examples include teachers from two local primaries delivering workshops at our joint Family STEM afternoons, a secondary school teacher delivering a community talk at Oundle on the James Webb Telescope, another regularly leading Maths sessions as part of our university preparation programme and all OPEN Learning Partnership schools contributing to the summer STEM Festival which allowed us to offer a high quality science experience to so many children of all backgrounds. These are just a few examples, but they are indicative of our pride in partnering with these schools; it is true to what we value and to what we want our pupils to value.
Relating back to the VAT question therefore, our partnerships work is not undertaken to justify our charitable status, nor to market our school. We expect that none of the pupils that we work with through these partnerships will ever enrol here but we are pleased to have the chance to contribute to their education in some way – and for them to contribute to ours. The pupils and staff with whom we engage enrich our experience and we hope that they view us in the same way.
Brian Crosby MBE, a former school leader and formative influence on cross-sector partnerships in York summed it up perfectly when speaking to a national gathering of school leaders. Insisting on the shared responsibility of all teachers, from all schools, to seek to impact on all of the young people in our areas, he said of his own local network ‘The children of York are OUR children’. We firmly believe that we share some responsibility for the success of the next generation in our region too. I sincerely hope that we can have a positive influence on the education of many more than the 1150 who attend our own boarding school. All being well, those making decisions that affect our sector will hold similar ambitions.
Gordon Montgomery – Deputy Head, Partnerships and Outreach
Deputy Head Partnerships and Outreach