The Conversation: Partnerships
Comberton Village College has a distinctive history. Could you tell me a little about it?
It's a village community college, opened in 1960, and the last of the Cambridgeshire village colleges built on the model of Henry Morris from his thinking in the 1920s, which means that the school serves all types of pupils in the local area and seeks to be at the heart of the local community. This remains the school's core ethos.
How has the school developed?
The school's history has been one of growth. It opened for 240 pupils, but today we have 1,370 11 to 16-year-olds. A further expansion will soon take us to 1,500 on roll. We have plans to add a significant sixth form to this. We then have to think about further developments because of local population growth.
Your school is noted for forming partnerships. Tell me about those.
We have taken on a great deal to press forward, work meaningfully with others for mutual benefit and to be properly outward facing. We are now a sports college, a language college, a vocational (applied learning) college, a lead partner in a leading edge partnership, and a training school. We are also a British Council international school with partner schools in four continents. We recently took on an Asperger's centre to allow children with the syndrome to access mainstream schooling. And we have just been rated "outstanding" for the fourth time by Ofsted.
The temptation must be to carry on looking inwards to continue raising standards within the school. Tell me how partnerships have helped you to have an impact elsewhere.
Far from being inward looking, for us the opposite is true. The real challenge for many schools is how to keep moving forward even when already doing well. What I believe is needed is a dynamic that forces us to keep progressing. That dynamic comes from meaningful partnerships and being as outward facing as we can. Every time we work with others we get a new idea that we wouldn't have got by just looking inwards. The professional development of staff is also very powerful. We genuinely hope that others gain similar benefits through working with us.
Talk me through an example of this - something that has enriched another school while raising standards at your own.
One clear one would be our partnership with a special school in Cambridgeshire. Our role has been to provide the specialist subject input they have lacked. For example, they had no specialist sport and PE input, so we agreed to provide an excellent young member of our PE department to teach there one day each week and to help oversee training for other staff. Since then, participation and achievement in PE has taken off there. And our teacher gained advanced skills teacher status and has clearly strengthened his own teaching performance.
Through emphasising partnerships you have developed an interesting staffing structure, including extensive use of advanced skills teachers. Could you describe this?
I think the notion of advanced skills teachers is one of the best developments to come from the Department for Children, Schools and Families in recent years. We have 14 and are looking to increase that number. They are the frontline of our outreach and partnership work: the whole notion is, by definition, written into their remit. They operate at all levels of our teaching staff: main scale, through middle management and into the senior leadership team. They are one of the key creative forces in our organisation and often help to bring new and interesting thinking to all areas of our work. I can unreservedly recommend their extensive use in any school.
Geoff Barton is headteacher of King Edward VI School in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk.