Pupils in east London's Canning Town may only live a short bus journey from Canary Wharf and the City, but the aspirations of those two worlds can be a million miles apart. Back in 2005, Rokeby School was the worst performer at GCSE in the borough of Newham, with only 16 per cent of pupils achieving five A*-C GCSEs, including English and maths. It also had no partnerships with businesses. The boys' school decided it needed to set up more meaningful links with companies than just a few office visits and talks.
In 2007, Rokeby decided to approach the East London Business Alliance to help it set up a partnership with not one company, but a group of them. A series of major businesses were signed up, including Accenture, BT, the Financial Services Authority (FSA), London City Airport and the legal firm McGrigors. Thus the Rokeby Business Support Group was born.
Examples of the group's projects include regular employability skills days which Accenture, Morgan Stanley and the FSA now hold at their offices for Rokeby's pupils. Business media company Thomson Reuters and the FSA have worked with the student council to help them learn about project management and chairing meetings.
Rokeby's staff have also benefited in a multitude of ways. London City Airport has provided administrative staff with customer services training, while BT seconded two employees to help with project management when the school moved to a new building. Food company Tate amp; Lyle has helped the senior management team to develop a communications strategy, and the school obtained new logos and an entire rebranding from one company working pro bono publico.
The businesses have also benefited, and not simply in terms of ticking off the corporate social responsibility box, but by getting to know the pupils and improving their community links.
Tips from the scheme
- The Rokeby Business Support Group makes a point of involving everybody who plays a part in school life, rather than just seeing it as a project for pupils.
- The businesses in the group meet four times during the school year to hear from the headteacher. The regularity of these meetings enables the members of the group to bring their resources and expertise to support the pupils, teachers and management team.
Evidence that it works
Rokeby won Outstanding Business Community Partnership at this year's TES Schools Awards. The links are seen by the school as part of the reason why the proportion of pupils gaining five A*-C GCSEs, including English and maths, rose from 16 to 67 per cent between 2005 and 2010.
Business people who have praised the project include Angus Menzies, a former McGrigors director, who said it had given employees a chance to help make "a positive and long-lasting impact".
Approach: Asking companies to create a business support group for a school
Started: Preparations began in 2007
Leader: Headteacher Charlotte Robinson and the East London Business Alliance
Institution: Rokeby School
Location: Canning Town, east London
Number of pupils: 741
Age range: 11-16
Intake characteristics: All boys. Pupils from minority ethnic groups form 98 per cent of the school population and there is a high proportion of pupil mobility. The proportion of pupils who speak English as an additional language is well above the national average, as is the proportion of pupils eligible for free school meals
Ofsted overall rating: Outstanding (2011).