Public and private working together

In an article in the TES, 13/08/12, Irena Barker finds a less formal partnership between maintained school Conisborough and HMC school Colfe's is highly successful.

It all began in 2009, when Frankie Sulke, head of children and young people at Lewisham Council, approached Colfe’s, a leading private school in Lee, south London. Sulke was keen to see if Colfe’s, which is a member of the elite Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference (HMC), could support school improvement in the area.

She asked the headteacher, Richard Russell, if he would be interested in running a federation of schools including Catford High and another comprehensive. Russell turned down the offer because he feared he would have no time left for his own school. But after a series of discussions, he agreed to a partnership that would allow Colfe’s to nominate six people to the comprehensive’s governing body. A rare Freedom to Innovate request was successfully lodged with the Department for Education to allow this to go ahead.

Russell has since taken up a place as a governor, along with two retired deputies from HMC schools and a lawyer, formerly a Colfe’s scholar. They support Conisborough by offering advice in their wide-ranging areas of expertise. For example, the lawyer is an expert on construction contracts and advises on Conisborough’s private finance initiative arrangements. Another governor has expertise in child protection issues and pastoral care.

Colfe’s also agreed to offer two sixth-form scholarships to pupils from the rebranded school, which has closed its small post-16 offering. And Conisborough has adopted a version of the rampant stag insignia of Colfe’s coat of arms.

Conisborough’s exam results tell a positive story. In 2007, only 19 per cent of pupils gained five or more A*-C grades at GCSE including English and maths. That figure is now at 50 per cent and is expected to rise by 5 per cent later this month. Fixed-term exclusions have dropped from 296 in 2006-7 to 59 in 2010-11. Once many of the improvements had been made, and the new building put up, students named the school Conisborough College, after the road it sits on.

For Colfe’s, the partnership with Conisborough allows it to go beyond small gestures such as loaning out its sports facilities, but without the risks of sponsoring an academy. It is able to offer practical and moral support without “taking over” the state school.

And what does Colfe’s get out of the partnership? Russell explains that the scholars who come from Conisborough contribute to social diversity, and this year they have had the satisfaction of seeing the first two pupils receive offers from Russell Group universities.

By Irena Barker, TES. Click here to read the article © TES