Is the time right for an Abingdon Town Learning Partnership?
By Rob Southwell-Sander, Director of Partnerships at Abingdon School

We are undoubtedly living in turbulent political times and the education sector is no different. With educational discourse dominated by topics such as inspection, austerity, teacher retention and inequality, it is important that independent schools such as Abingdon reflect on the role they play within their local community and the relationship they have with their surrounding schools.

Having visited several of our fantastic partner schools across the town such as Fitzharrys, Larkmead and John Mason, as well as seeing learning partnerships flourish in other parts of the country including Canterbury, Norwich and York, I am convinced that, while we as a school have much to offer, we also have much to learn. Which is why, for several years now Abingdon has placed ‘Partnerships’ at the very heart of its Foundation.

Abingdon School in Partnership, ASiP, has developed a strategic vision based on three key elements allowing us to focus effort and attention on developing meaningful and collaborative relationships across the town. The three elements are:

Community – For Abingdon School to build on the positive role it plays within the local community

Collaboration – For Abingdon students and staff to collaborate effectively and positively with members of the local community

Challenge – For Abingdon students and staff to stretch and challenge themselves via collaboration

With almost 70% of Abingdon staff having experience of working in partnerships, and 85% keen to remain or indeed become involved, it is clear there is an appetite to collaborate with colleagues and students from across the town. The benefits of such partnerships can be broad and meaningful; from teacher professional development to leadership opportunities for students as well as simply to learn from others. To get a sense of the scale of partnerships here are a few statistics to reflect on:

In the academic year 2018/19 Abingdon School in Partnerships:

  • Hosted almost 150 events
  • Partnered with over 50 primary and secondary schools and other organisations
  • Involved Abingdon academic and support staff in over 2800 hours volunteering at partnership events
  • Enabled over 6,500 partner school student experiences*
  • Involved over 300 Abingdon students in partnership events

(*a student experience is a time a student from a partner school takes part in an ASiP event)

A driving force behind our flourishing partnership program has been the Abingdon Science Partnership, ASP. For over three years, ASP has been blazing a trail in terms of delivering STEM education locally. This has included running the Primary Science Crest Awards for over 400 local pupils, while Abingdon students have volunteered almost 400 hours running primary science clubs. We offer over 20 different primary science workshops to partner schools as well as being involved in projects ranging from researching badger behaviour and using dance to learn about cells to developing research in schools and being an integral part of the ATOM Festival. All of this rightly leads to the ASP being shortlisted in three categories for the prestigious TES awards.

Beyond science we have spent much of the last few years expanding into other areas of partnership all the time seeing colleagues and students benefit from meaningful collaboration with other schools. For the last two years an academic mentoring scheme has seen sixth formers from across the town work together with guidance from staff to teach key stage 3 students core elements of the Maths, English and Science curriculum. 100% of those involved found the experience worthwhile and sixth formers helped develop communication and team-work skills as well as gaining confidence.

Outside the classroom we are piloting a cross-town Peer Support Lead program where sixth formers from five of Abingdon schools have been trained in listening skills and pastoral support. The aim is for these students to not only offer well-trained support to younger students within their own school but benefit from working alongside and socialising with students from across the town.

Performing arts is another focus; we have developed the Abingdon Film Academy where students from schools in Abingdon learn the process of film making and script writing, allowing them to develop creative skills – so vital in today’s world.

The School has also been expanding the link we have with primary schools organising wide-ranging events such as a business challenge, an introduction to humanities, design technology and art outreach, fun with languages and a mini Olympics.

In addition, we are exploring areas such as a teaching and learning CPD, inter-school sports coaching as well as offering mental health first aid to colleagues from partner schools. I could go on…

I feel both excited and privileged to work in a town where the educational landscape is so rich and varied; full of passionate professionals and talented students. Schools have a tendency to be tribal, inward looking establishments and independent schools have been guilty of resting on their laurels. Having seen what can be both achieved and learnt over the last few years now is the time to knock down the metaphorical walls and build meaningful, sustainable and mutually beneficial relationships through a town-wide learning partnership for the benefit of all students and teachers alike.

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