As she arrived in Downing Street yesterday as a brand new Prime Minister Theresa May used her inaugural speech to set an agenda of social justice and equal opportunity for all. She didn’t elaborate about how or why, but the rhetoric seems to have gone down well. Certainly her new cabinet represents a better mix of social and educational background than her predecessor’s, as well as a better gender balance. This bodes well for her mission to serve everybody, not just the privileged few.
So, just in case she’s wondering where to start, I’d like to invite Mrs May to take a look at how independent schools are taking a lead in sharing their resources beyond a privileged few. It’s a good model for widening opportunity and broadening access.
She could start with a quick glance at the new Schools Together website which, in just a few short months, has become a directory of over a thousand different independent-state school partnership projects, and an inspiration to schools to do more.
- Come and see how students from a local academy visit us to get their stretch and challenge in maths from a colleague in her spare time, while their own maths department undergoes an 86% turnover
- Or observe how much our students learn by leading science workshops for primary school children who get their first exposure to the word “university”.
- Or hear about when children from our local neighbourhood, which suffers 44% poverty, come for a day of sport and fun and a decent meal.
- Or meet with our 6th form student who has organized his classmates to buddy with local unaccompanied minor refugees.
The Prime Minister might be worried about the enormity of the task she has set herself, but she could be reassured that starting small can really make a difference. It’s about building relationships.
I could invite her to the next meeting of the Schools Together Group, established last term to share good practice in coordinating school partnerships. She would learn that more and more schools are recognizing the importance of this area of their remit by appointing ‘heads of partnership’ or ‘directors of widening access’ (job titles vary…). I think she’d be pleased to see that community volunteering in schools is trending right now.
I’d like to explain to her that I’ve learned a lot about fund-raising so that exhausted colleagues aren’t expected to deliver partnership teaching out of goodwill on top of a 70-hour week. She’ll need to talk to her new Chancellor about that.