In association with Benenden School
Barely a week passes without the independent education sector coming under fire, with the most common accusation being that private schools damage the state sector.
Ironically, such criticism not only comes at a time of increasing demand, with more children educated in independent schools than ever before, but also when independent schools have never worked more closely with their state counterparts.
Independent schools are not the enemy. All of us working in schools have a deep interest in the education of children in this country. Bashing the independent sector is not the solution for improving state schools. It is clear that greater investment is required in the maintained sector.
However, I do believe that independent schools have a moral obligation to support their counterparts in the maintained sector wherever possible. Independent schools offer bursaries and most, like us at Benenden, are trying to increase their provision in this area. The greatest way, however, in which independent schools can reach as many children as possible is through partnership working.
We rarely read in the media about successful state-independent partnerships but there are countless examples up and down the country. Sharing facilities, resources, ideas and experiences is incredibly enriching and, crucially, mutually beneficial.
Since 2008 Benenden has been a sponsor of The John Wallis Church of England Academy in Ashford and we are honoured to be part of this marvellous school’s success. We work in a variety of ways with John Wallis, including:
• The heads of both schools sit on one another’s governing bodies;
• Helping John Wallis with policy scrutiny and strategic planning;
• Joint working between heads of departments at both schools to share best practice in individual subjects;
• Our sixth-form pupils mentor pupils at John Wallis who are in their GCSE years, sharing exam tips and revision techniques;
• Offering support to John Wallis students with higher education applications and interviews;
• Joint academic trips, for example a recent geography field trip to London;
• Participating in one another’s events; for example John Wallis perform in our arts festival;
• We frequently share opportunities, whether it be jointly attending special chemistry days, off-site events or visiting speakers;
• We run a Combined Cadet Force between the two schools.
This relationship provides invaluable two-way support and the opportunity to share truly excellent practice across the sectors. My staff and pupils get as much out of this partnership as John Wallis.
Independent schools have a vital role to play in modern society, and a large part of that is to engage with the community and to help others. Partnerships will never replace the government funding that state schools so desperately need, but the independent sector has a lot to offer — and is enthusiastically doing so. This should be a cause for celebration, rather than criticism.
Samantha Price is headmistress of Benenden School.