I had the real pleasure on Tuesday of this week to give a speech and present the prizes at the Annual Awards Evening of one of our local state schools, Abbeyfield School in Chippenham – a Business and Enterprise Specialist College for 11-18 year olds. Its motto is ‘Aspiration, Attitude, Achievement’, and this resonates so well with our approach to education at St Mary’s Calne that we have been developing our relationship together over the past few years – one of the several relationships we have with other schools and universities.
A natural area of overlap between our two schools is that of able, gifted and talented pupils. St Mary’s Calne has a national reputation for academic excellence and university preparation, with 20% of our Year 13 students last year going on to Oxford or Cambridge Universities, and it has been a real pleasure to welcome Abbeyfield students to the Oxbridge preparation classes which we run at St Mary’s Calne, and to benefit from their involvement and their perspective. This programme of collaborative action has been extended, and we are developing activities which challenge and stretch able, gifted and talented students across the two schools, including seminars and subject-specific workshops, as well as lectures and Challenge Days.
The real key to successful partnership is that it is mutually beneficial, and that both partners enter into it on an equal footing. In this way, the difference that can exist between the abilities of the two partners to be able to be generous with their funds becomes less of a focus, and there is instead a real emphasis on joint achievement. Both are bringing something to the table; both are gaining from the experience. Independent schools are not islands – no school is an island; we are in the business of preparing young people to live and work in a diverse society, and our moral responsibility for this extends beyond the pupils in our school, although our prime concern must always, of course, be the young people at the heart of our own school. Mutually beneficial relationships are the way forward, and they do not always require considerable structural change which locks independent schools into the state sector.
As I said in my speech on Tuesday night, I believe that schools are essentially about people and about people in society. We know our society can be unequal, and our schools should be places where we teach the values of hard work, kindness, tolerance and understanding which we need if we are to improve our world. They should be places where we teach and value inquisitiveness, determination and commitment to make the world a better place. The students at Abbeyfield receiving their awards had all shown that they can work and achieve, and I applaud them for it. They – and the young people in my school – are all unique individuals with a distinctive future story that has yet to be written. It is up to us to make sure that they can all make the differences in the world that are still needed.