I wrote last year about my frustrations at the seemingly short-sighted barriers which were put up between state and independent collaboration, namely in terms of a junior football tournament which my son was only able to attend under invitation from another (private) school. (https://tomchicks.wordpress.com/2016/10/27/independent-schools-want-to-engage-with-state-schools-but-red-tape-abounds/) The incident really got me thinking more about what we could do to further links for the benefit of all the pupils involved, and I was delighted to see some of the progress we made through the year.
The great highlight for me came in June after the major public exams had taken place and our school was starting to look a bit more ’free-range’ with open days being visited, and department trips taking place and so on. Linking up with the head of Key Stage 1, we devised an activity day to be run by year 12 students for the year 2s, which was widely acknowledged as one of the best school trips the school had ever run.
We were helped by a gloriously sunny day, and the morning saw the class split into groups of 6, led by two senior helpers and some parent volunteers from the primary school. One of the students had devised a map of the campus, with various stations pointed out for the children to work on their basic navigation skills and to perform a range of tasks linked to their local history project, which had been centred around the school itself. The young pupils enjoyed sketching the chapel and discussing architecture (they had recently done a project on Sir Christopher Wren), copying Mandarin characters, unscrambling the names of the boarding houses in the dining room over a custard cream and squash, brass rubbing and pretending to be kings and queens in the ‘throne’ of the chapel, searching for the foundation stone, doing arithmetic with some of the dates on the walls, identifying herbs by their smell and leaves by their appearance and even getting a rudimentary introduction into Latin. I am pretty sure the year 12s learnt quite a lot about their own school as well!
Sir Christopher Wren – uniting year 12s and year 2s!
After a picnic lunch, the year 2s were offered the chance to do two of five different activities: dance, drama, music, art and sport – all devised by the year 12s independently. Dance involved some Zumba to Disney tunes, art was painting inspired by the visit in Warhol-style technicolour, sport was rounders and football, drama was alfresco and involved some pretty gruesome wink murder and physical theatre whilst the music was an outstanding collaboration of various percussion instruments with the alto sax of the lead of the school’s jazz band.
At hometime, goodie bags were handed out along with hugs and high fives all round. It was abundantly clear that the student leaders had not only enjoyed the experience thoroughly, they also recognised the sheer levels of energy required to look after children of primary age. As their teacher, I learnt that when given the chance to take charge, teenagers and be capable of true inspiration and I saw many in a new and impressive light. They were a shining example for their generation. I also was reminded that they will leave things late and cause last-minute panic (for me at least!) As a professional project, the teachers involved gained a real insight into each other’s worlds and recognised that whilst our job descriptions both say ‘teacher’, this looks quite different on a daily basis. I think the mutual respect was certainly enhanced.
I had felt the pressure to put on a good day when some of the social media posts ahead of the day suggested the primary school was trying to cut costs and should be doing a ‘proper’ trip – to a museum or equivalent, and even saying that a trip is not really a trip unless a lengthy bus-ride is involved! The reality was a fully immersive, varied and lengthy day covering lots of curriculum material at little cost and a lot of laughter. The thank you cards said it all in the end and it was a highlight of my career to date to be able to see the look in the year 12s eyes when I handed them over.
School trips – not just about the bus ride…
But what of the state/independent attitudes? Well, I think the students have a lot to teach us here (as they often do when it comes to challenging entrenched or jaded attitudes). There was not a chip in sight on anyone’s shoulder during the day. The parent volunteers loved the chance for a day out in glorious surroundings and there was a lovely vibe around the place when the thirty-strong horde of unbridled joy and energy made its luminous-jacketed way around the place.
Would the year 2s love to come to a school like ours in the future? I suspect so. Will they be able to? Well, one hopes that the commitment to raising money for assisted places continues in all independent schools to strive for a needs-blind admissions process. Until we reach that point, for me, it remains a clear imperative to open the doors and make available the resources as far as possible for the benefit of all in the local community and for everyone involved to recognise the enormous mutual benefit to students from both sides of the fence. I encourage every teacher to reach out, use their imagination and try something similar in their area.
Don’t wait to be told, or think that it’s someone else’s job – if you can make it happen, then go and make the difference.