The private-state school trio pushing educational boundaries

The leaders of two private schools and a high-achieving state sixth form in London explain why they have brought their skills together – on everything from vocational courses to Oxbridge exams
10th November 2022, 10:00am


The private-state school trio pushing educational boundaries

Reach Academy Feltham is a state school in a deprived corner of Hounslow, south-west London, where around 45 per cent of its pupils are eligible for free school meals.

A short drive away sits Lady Eleanor Holles (LEH), a day school for girls, and Hampton School, a day school for boys - which counts former education secretary Kenneth Baker as an alum - that charge over £7,500 a term for attendance.

Yet, despite the clear difference in context, these three schools have partnered to share their collective expertise for the launch of a state sixth-form college, Feltham College.

An evolving idea

The college, born out of a former sixth form offering from Reach Academy Feltham, opened its doors in September to 62 pupils after several years of discussions between the schools to build on a more low-key collaboration, as Rebecca Cramer, CEO of Reach Academy Feltham explains.

“The three schools began working together around six years ago [and] the wide-ranging benefits to our pupils have been clear to see - and that was the foundation behind the creation of Feltham College.” 

While a partnership between state and private schools is not unique - the Independent Schools Council says around 85 per cent of its member schools are in some form of partnership - those involved believe the scope and scale of this project are far larger than standard.

Deputy head of Hampton School, Mark Nicholson, told Tes this was the biggest partnership project his school has ever been involved with, and hopes it could be a model others can take inspiration from.

“It’s about a shared commitment of broadening the choices for the young people in Feltham,” he says. 

One of the key aims of the partnership is to boost the provision available to young people in the area so more young people have the opportunity of moving on to university - at present only 20 per cent of young people in the area do so, less than half the national average.

Aiming high

The ambitions are high, too - with talk of how collaboration between staff and pupils in the College could help open more doors to Oxbridge, as Cramer explains.

“Hampton and LEH sixth forms have [teachers] who’ve been through the Oxbridge process many, many times,” she tells Tes.

“From a staff development perspective, it’s really helpful to share that experience across the three schools. We have staff here who’ve been to Oxbridge, but it’s helpful to see how to coach a student through the process.” 

Before that point, though, the partnership is very much about bringing practical, day-to-day teaching benefits to pupils at Feltham College.

For example, the two independent schools will provide teachers who will deliver 28 periods of A-level teaching a week, while Feltham College students will be able to use the facilities at the two independent school sixth forms, such as science labs, where appropriate, and take part in music and sport at the two independent schools.

Support offered by Hampton and LEH teachers can include targeted catch-up, focused revision and extension classes.

Already in chemistry, for example, Reach sixth form pupils last year achieved the best results ever after Hampton School staff ran extension classes designed to push students for A to A*, and allowed them to do practicals in its labs using its specialist equipment.

In physics, Feltham College students have been trained at LEH to use audio software to analyse the weather in space by listening to interpretations of electromagnetic interactions as detected by satellites.

And LEH also has a machine for detecting muons - particles similar to electrons that are 200 times the mass - that pupils at Feltham can access, too.

A partnership of equals

So far, this may sound like private schools riding to the rescue - but those involved are keen to make it clear that is not the case and that it is a meeting of equals, as Becky Taylor, director of outreach and co-curricular at LEH, outlines.

“It’s really come across as being three schools deciding to work in partnership with a common aim and then, as that’s grown, there’s been talk about having further impact and more activities, and that’s continuing to grow.”

That’s no sop to Reach Academy Feltham, as its credentials are strong.

Despite opening just ten years ago with a Reception and a Year 7, it found itself among the very top-performing schools in the country when its first students sat GCSEs in 2017 with 95 per cent of pupils achieving a grade 4 or above in English and maths compared with 64 per cent nationally.

Since then, exam results have consistently been well above average. What’s more, co-founder Ed Vainker received an OBE for Services to Education in 2019, and Cramer was nominated for the Global Teacher Prize in 2018.

So Reach is very much a high-achiever in its own right and so it’s no surprise that a key part of the partnership is what it can offer the private schools.

Pupils at LEH and Hampton may one day be able to access vocational courses through the College, such as a Btec in Health and Social Care or Applied Sciences. There are even plans for a Professional Cookery Diploma that works with award-winning restaurateur Jacob Kenedy to offer students access to his restaurants in London.

Enrichment and engagement 

What’s more, LEH and Hampton pupils will also be able to access “enrichment” activities working alongside Feltham College pupils on everything from organising events for Year 7s, such as a maths olympiad, science fair and mock court trial.

They also have already worked on the Feltham College launch event itself, from deciding on the menu to designing the invitations and tasting the food as a way to start getting the pupils collaborating.   

Taylor adds: “Working with external partners - whoever they are - clearly enhances and gives pupils additional experience.”

Meanwhile, for staff, the opportunity to teach at the College is something that the deputy head of Hampton School, Mark Nicholson, believes will have a major benefit for staff development.

“It’s really healthy and helpful for colleagues to see how other schools operate and I think we all benefit from that,” he told Tes.

“All kinds of organisations benefit from seeing how others work - there are elements of professional development and opportunities for different experiences - and I personally think it’s really healthy to look at other schools because that informs your teaching practice.”

Breaking down barriers 

Cramer agrees, saying the chance to share best practice, ideas and innovations should not be stopped by perceived barriers between state and private settings.

“This is a chance for teachers to be able to work collaboratively across schools and to have deep and meaningful dialogue with peers - and whether that’s in the independent or state sector is irrelevant - it’s just dialogue with other great teachers about teaching and learning.”

It’s early days but staff comments seem to back this up, with LEH English teacher, Héloïse Plumley, saying time at Feltham College was helping broaden her teaching skills.

“I found it really exciting to be out helping and trying to give my knowledge and skills to the students to help support them. I find it invigorates me and makes me a better teacher for my [own LEH] students as well.”

Feltham College chemistry teacher (and Reach assistant head) Fran Grimes says she is “coming from a very different experience point” to that of Hampton head of chemistry David Schofield, and that he has helped her learn how to run extension classes for A and A* pupils. 

Parents seem on board too, with Taylor saying they had shown “enthusiasm” for the project and the benefits to their children.

Taylor adds: “They really want their daughters to get involved in activities [at Feltham College] because they can see what it offers in terms of being able to work on projects outside of the school environment, and what they can gain from that.”

With plans for places at Feltham College set to rocket to 400 after 2024, when a second Reach Academy school opens on adjacent land, the hope is the project will continue to grow and give pupils at all schools the best chances possible during their time in education.

“It’s about what is in the best interest of those pupils,” says Cramer.

Dave Speck is a freelance journalist

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