Even a cursory review of collaborative activities within the community undertaken by independent schools reveals a level of engagement which is impressive and heartening. The personal commitment of dedicated staff and students to a particular project or cause can be quite overwhelming but the benefits to be reaped by all involved make the undertaking truly rewarding.
Not all private schools approach community service with the same vigour but for those that do I believe they have a genuine contribution to make to the local community. There is, of course, government funding for some community activity but for the large part my experience shows that these projects have a life of their own and gain momentum fuelled by the drive, enthusiasm and resources of those involved, often offered outside of their existing already heavy daily workloads.
As a City school, The Stephen Perse Foundation is a veritable tardis, hidden away behind the beautiful architecture of Cambridge. Although our location can baffle the most sophisticated navigational device, as a school we aim to transcend our physical constraints and actively engage with our local community. Our aim is simple. As a centre of educational opportunity and excellence, we have so much to share with other schools – we are also keen to learn.
Our Gifted and Talented partnerships with maintained secondary schools, for example, have been hugely successful, creating a real sense of excitement about learning for its own sake, for all the students involved, not least our own. Last term, following an approach from the charitable trust Shine, we collaborated with a group of four local primary schools to create a project called “Serious Fun on a Saturday”, involving boys and girls aged 9-10 and our own lower sixth students as mentors. Getting the children out of bed on a Saturday morning would usually be an achievement in itself but parents reported mounting excitement and energy for the sessions over the 10 consecutive weeks of the digital art project, inspired by classical myths and legends no less! They were genuinely motivated by this project and their mentors found the whole experience genuinely life-changing.
The important lesson for all is that there is a huge amount that we can continue to learn from each other and by opening the Foundation’s doors and putting effort into welcoming in students and teachers from schools with very different challenges to our own, we can work together to make a difference through partnership and mutual respect.