I have just spent the day at a particularly inspiring conference entitled “Education at its Finest – Successful Cross-Sector Partnerships”. Organised by the Department for Education, it was attended by heads and senior leaders from over 200 schools, both state and independent, primary and secondary; some of us had long-standing experience of working with partners in the other sector and some had come to find out more and how to get involved.
Most speakers were exceptional, especially the students (ranging from years 7 to 13), who talked eloquently about what they had expected and what they had gained from their experiences.
We heard about the Dorchester Area Schools Partnership, founded in 1992, which involves 19 educational establishments in that area. This group of local schools are determined to work together to improve the outcomes for all children in their schools. They analyse data and review the strengths and areas for improvement across all their schools each year and then work on a joint strategy to address these.
In some ways they have almost become a local authority. They have set up a limited company through which to provide sports services, music services and SEN and disabilities support, for example, as well as running conferences and days for pupils and their families and entrepreneur summer schools.
They are able to negotiate deals as one group with internet providers and HR services, benefiting from economies of scale. Governors, staff, pupils and parents are all actively involved.
Another presentation was made by the City of York partnership, which is in its eighth year. It includes all the secondary schools in the local area: three independent, two academies and six other state comprehensives. They work with the “able and interested”, both pupils and staff, and not only run joint Saturday schools, master classes, teacher CPD and summer schools, but have also developed e-projects with Russia and Berlin supported by strong links with York University.
The Southwark Schools Learning Partnership (SSLP), of which I have written before (as I am co-director), made a presentation about our activities for staff and students during the past 10 years. We followed a speech by a minister, Lord Nash, who pointed out that we currently have the most socially immobile society in Europe.
An SSLP 6th-form student from St Saviour’s and St Olave’s School, at the junction of the Old and New Kent Road, spoke very powerfully in riposte about being one of the disadvantaged and underprivileged but stating that she was going to be a doctor.
Ian Warwick, director of London Gifted and Talented, spoke eloquently about working together for a clear purpose and with a common understanding.
A government youth advisor, Shaun Bailey, was passionate about education (both academic and social) being the key to resilience and a better, longer life. Our young people and their parents do not have the same hunger for education and aspiration as those he had met in many other countries, especially in Asia and Africa – we need to effect a cultural transformation if we want to change this.
The shared purpose, enthusiasm and mutual understanding at this conference were palpable. There was a genuine desire for working locally together, collaborating for the good of our students and staff rather than competing, or becoming linked closely into national or international “chains” but not with our neighbours. However, we were told that there was definitely no government money available to initiate or support partnership activities and it seems likely that such good news stories will remain unnoticed by the mainstream media and indeed some educationalists and politicians, who prefer to focus on differences and caricaturing or demonising the two sectors as the mood takes them.
We can only dream of a time when every parent, student and staff member will want to know why if their school is not involved in collaboration with local schools across both sectors for the benefit of all.
Marion Gibbs is head of James Allen’s Girls’ School in south London.