Head’s blog: A masterclass in collaboration

Together we stand, divided we fall
Come on now people, let’s get on the ball and work together
Come on, come on let’s work together

Let’s Work Together, Canned Heat (1970)

I have always felt strongly that independent schools have a duty to work for the benefit for their local communities. This can manifest itself in all sorts of ways but as far as education goes, this generally involves working in collaboration with local state schools and providing bursaries for bright children from lower income backgrounds. For some independent schools, the public benefit test to justify charitable status may be a somewhat mercenary catalyst for such activities, but I see it as a basic moral obligation.

Increasing our bursary provision through the King’s 100 Challenge (raising £30million by 2041 for 100 extra bursaries, forever more) is a key strategic objective for the school and one that I am totally committed to. In my experience, the difference a great education can make to individual pupils, benefits not just the individuals themselves, but critically also their families, schools and communities. King’s has a long and well-established tradition of supporting students in this way, of course, through the City and County Scholarships of the 20th century, during which half of the school’s pupils did not pay fees, as well as the Assisted Places scheme which continued to provide places for local children on a means-tested basis.

Collaborative projects with local schools may be less impactful on individuals but have the relative advantages of involving a far greater number of pupils at any one time and also nurturing the sharing of excellent practice between schools; there is no doubt that we have as much to learn and benefit from other schools in the Chester area as they have to benefit from us. It was consequently great to find out at the recent HMC Spring Conference in London, the theme of which was ‘Partnership and Collaboration in Practice’, that many independent schools across the length and breadth of the country are engaging in exciting and purposeful projects with state schools in their localities.

Having recently helped set up the Chester Schools Together (CST) project with Blacon High School and Bishops’ Blue Coat Church of England School, the conference inspired me to do more than ever to make the most of this collaboration for the benefit of all three schools. For clarity’s sake we were very keen from the outset that CST would be a true, working partnership which yielded mutually beneficial outcomes for our respective schools and students, rather than becoming part of an established programme of outreach events.

The first CST initiative took place last term and involved a series of Saturday masterclasses for Year 7 and 8 pupils from the three schools. Each school hosted a different masterclass, based around the common theme of creativity, which was attended by mixed groups of pupils from all three schools. The masterclasses involved a collaborative sculpture project (King’s), production of a student newspaper (Blacon) and the use of virtual reality to create resources for history teaching (Bishops’).

All three masterclasses proved a great success, with excellent attendance rates across all three weekends and overwhelmingly positive feedback from the pupils. The main themes in such feedback were that they had all learnt plenty of new things about the topics and themselves, that they had all enjoyed making new friends and, perhaps most importantly, that they had worked seamlessly as a team. All participants said that they would recommend the experience to others. It was particularly interesting to hear both children and staff say that after the initial awkward ‘meeting phase’, everyone ‘forgot’ which school the other members of their group came from as they became engrossed in the task at hand- perhaps the ultimate measure of the scheme’s success so far.

Having recently reviewed the masterclass project, CTS has decided to double them up next year for the benefit of even more pupils. After that we look forward to inviting more schools in the city to join CST and to add a greater variety of initiatives, involving a broader range of activities. Having recently re-established the core values of King’s as aspire, respect and collaborate it is really encouraging to see such values in action and as part of our strategic objective to play a much more active role at the heart of the Chester community.