​‘Better Together’ – our journey towards collaboration

Academic

Deb Sherwood, KGS Director of Partnerships, discusses Kingston Grammar School’s outreach programmes and partnerships.

Underneath this country’s worst political crisis for 80 years lie deep political, cultural and attitudinal divisions that now sit at our core. The London School of Economics has identified the UK as one of the most unequal societies in Europe and predicted that the country’s acute territorial differences are only likely to multiply in the coming years. As part of my recent appointment to lead KGS Partnerships I am overtly conscious of this background and context. The work we do as part of our charitable status has to be worthwhile, and collaboration is undoubtedly the most effective route to achieving meaningful outcomes.

One really effective area of partnering with local schools has been with our higher education provision. Amongst our alumni we are lucky enough to have some fantastic connections as well as contacts with Imperial College London through our governing body. Events organised at KGS are routinely offered to local state schools, with a healthy take-up. Following on from our annual industry-wide Careers Evening we held a hugely popular Careers in Engineering & Technology Evening as part of our British Science Week celebrations, held on Pi Day. We welcomed speakers from 11 different spheres of engineering and technology including global companies such as BP, Air Products, Northrup Grumman Sperry Marine and Alstom as well as Crossrail, cyber-security tech start-up Risk Ledger and leading research academics from Imperial College London, King’s College London and Kingston University. We were also delighted to welcome over 40 students from local schools to benefit from the specialist advice on offer. This gives all students exposure to career-specific opportunities but also enables students with similar aspirations to work together, benefitting everyone involved.

Kingston Grammar School’s Careers & Universities Department have developed a range of partnership activities with local state schools over the past three years to support student aspiration for applying to top universities including Oxford and Cambridge. Year 9 students from six local schools attended a STEAM (Science, Maths, Engineering, Art & Maths) day run in collaboration with Imperial College London. We have exchanged students for mock interviews at one local state school for two years running. To develop thinking skills in Oxbridge applicants we have hosted a number of students from three schools for an event facilitated by the Philosophy Foundation. For aspiring medics, we run an after-school Multiple Mini Interview practice session in conjunction with St George’s Medical School. All of these activities benefit KGS as much as our visitors - and our students get to see the real-world competition whilst forging links with the wider community.

More recently, we have focused on developing a sustainable primary school professional development programme. This was originally inspired by a collaborative Primary Physics Professional Learning event with the Ogden Trust, a charitable trust that exists to promote the teaching and learning of Physics. They support teacher CPD and address the shortage of Physics teachers in the UK by funding programmes that encourage young graduates to go into teaching. In collaboration with them we hosted and coordinated a highly successful Primary Physics Professional Learning Course for 42 local primary school teachers which saw a carousel of workshops that included Maths, English, Physics and Cross-Curricular themes delivered that all focused on topics relating to Physics.

We have also developed some ‘home grown’ training events. Tim Benson, our Head of STEAM, recently led a STEAM professional afternoon for 12 local primary school teachers provided support for the delivery of the computing curriculum at primary level, often a daunting prospect for non-specialist teachers. The sessions focused on the BBC micro:bit; in addition to the practical training course we provided lesson plans and resources, including a kit of 10 micro:bits for each school. These kits, sponsored by Old Kingstonian Mansoor Sheik, who has a passion for STEAM learning, can be used for teaching a class of up to 30 students.

We don’t just focus on the teachers, though: inviting students is also important and we recently welcomed over 60 pupils and 12 staff from St. Paul’s Primary in Chessington for a pottery project led by Rebecca Wakely and Gavin Garcia from the Art Department. Meeting enthusiastic children from Year 5 and Year 6 helps us to understand how younger children work and learn, invaluable when it comes to considering our own transition programme for new students joining us in Year 7.

KGS has also connected with Dr Sewell from Generating Genius, a London-based organisation aimed at inspiring, motivating and supporting 14–18 year olds to pursue STEAM subjects at school or as a career. They specialise in working with young people who are under-represented in higher education and particularly in STEAM; this includes girls of any ethnic group, black African and black Caribbean males and mixed-race young people, all of whom are often from low-income households and would be the first in their immediate family to go to university. Partnernering with London state schools that have a high percentage of pupils in these categories, they aim to highlight students’ academic potential and develop an interest in STEAM subjects. We are supporting the programme with some additional Saturday morning revision classes and are looking at supporting a higher education information event in the Summer term.

We are also involved in an exciting borough-wide opportunity to support the transition of students into Year 7. Inspired by Kingston University’s award-winning annual Big Read and the success of a transformational project run by Coombe Boys’ School, participating schools gift a copy of the same book to every Year 6 pupil before they start senior school as well as to every member of staff who will have contact with the new Year 7 intake. The book will also be embedded in the Year 7 curriculum across a number of subjects. The key benefits are reading for pleasure, improved empathy and a commonality amongst all students and their teachers. Initial conversations regarding promotion of the event is currently underway between our highly experienced school librarian, Coombe Boys’ School, Kingston University and Kingston Borough.

In the current climate of division and debate, a renewed sense of community and engagement has never been so important. Creating opportunities for collaboration and partnership leads to a richer, more diverse experience for everyone involved. It is through our partnership activity that we become more closely connected as a community and in these turbulent times the importance of this cannot be overstated.