Wednesday, 23 June 2021

Independent school that enjoys being at heart of the community

Independent school that enjoys being at heart of the community

COLLABORATION not competition. When it comes to education, that has always been my motto. And that is what forms the foundation for our community outreach programme at Shiplake College.

After a successful trial last year, when one of our mathematics teachers spent a morning a week at a local secondary school, this year we will be sending two of our teachers to support local primary and secondary schools.

When maintained school budgets are so stretched, these gestures have the potential to make a real difference.

We offer those schools that don’t have as much time as us to think about pedagogy, alternative ideas about learning, by giving them the opportunity to use innovations we use in our own classrooms, whether that’s through IT or forward-thinking educational philosophies.

But this isn’t just a one-way street. We know that we can gain a great deal from our connections with state schools.

Our staff learn from other experienced teachers who are in a co-educational environment and, furthermore, learn how to manage bigger class sizes. All of this feeds back into what we do at Shiplake.

We are able to develop because we are dipping into other schools. We are improving the outcomes for our pupils because we have gone, seen and learnt in different environments.

Examples of links with other schools include providing access to an online economics package, as part of our own licence, moderating media studies coursework and supporting setting up schemes of work in science. All this provides professional development opportunities for my colleagues.

We are continuing to work with all these schools to find further ways of building mutually beneficial relationships. Reaching further into the wider community, we also provide our state-of-the-art music facilities to the hugely popular Henley Music School.

Each month nearly 100 youngsters make our music department home. Practice rooms, percussion instruments, music studios, our Apple Mac music software and our performance theatre are all utilised.

In return, our pupils can also join these fun and beneficial sessions.

We also run the lively Shiplake Community Choir. With 50 to 60 members aged from 20 to 70, they sing a pop repertoire in four-part harmony. There is no audition and all are welcome, which rings true to the inclusive ethos of Shiplake.

Organised and led by one of our talented staff, with rehearsals held weekly at the college, the choir brings a great deal of joy and enrichment to those involved.

Shiplake College is nationally renowned for its sporting achievements and we want to share our resources and specialist knowledge.

Shiplake Vikings Rowing Club, for boys and girls from any school as well as adults, has been running successfully out of our boathouses for many years.

And from primary school cricket tournaments to a free children’s netball club and back to netball programme, we endeavour to open up our facilities to benefit more.

Tri-Henley have trained here for a number of years and this year also saw their inaugural Open Water Junior Triathlon take place at the college.

Nearly 200 competitors took part in an open water swim in the river with a cycle and run in the rest of the college grounds. It was a hugely successful event which made brilliant use of the college’s 45-acre site.

We also offer free use of our minibuses to local primary schools, brownies, cubs and scout groups. If they are not being used at that time why not share these valuable resources?

While this supporting of our community has elements of altruism, we are also extremely keen to show the public we are not exclusive.

We are opening our doors not only for people in our community to benefit from our facilities and specialist equipment, but also so they can gain an understanding of who we are and what Shiplake College is about.

Our outreach extends beyond the immediate community too and our pupils work hard to raise money and contributions for worthy causes.

More than 1,000 pairs of socks and 1,000 razors were donated to a Reading homelessness charity.

A total of 613 Easter Eggs was donated to the Salvation Army. Other charities supported include Crisis@Christmas, Macmillan Cancer Support and the Royal British Legion.

At the end of this month the whole school will embark on a 20-mile sponsored walk to raise funds for Gap Africa, a charity that we have had a long association with.

This September is also the first year that we are providing a 100 per cent scholarship to a local pupil joining in Year 7 from a primary school.

This special scholarship is awarded to one boy who excels academically and also displays talent, or shows the potential to, in other areas of school life such as sport, music, art or drama.

This means-tested award is particularly designed for an exceptional pupil who would otherwise not be able to attend without substantial financial support.

I have seen first-hand the transformative effect such a scholarship can have. I was that pupil. I attended a comprehensive school and gained a scholarship to attend Shrewsbury School in Shropshire. This fabulous opportunity, without a shadow of doubt, changed my life. I would not be a headteacher now had I not gone through that experience. I gained more skills, I became more confident and there were more opportunities for leadership.

It is fantastic that Shiplake College is in a position of strength that we can offer such an award.

It is essential that we set a good example to our pupils about the importance of community. We want our students to be inclusive in the way they connect with all people so that when they move on from Shiplake it is not in a bubble of privilege but with a strong set of values.

These include the understanding of the importance of collaboration and the desire to make a positive difference in their communities and the world beyond.

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