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Roland Martin - Issue #31

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'Mind the gap!' Neil Gaiman, Neverwhere 'My Dad says that being a Londoner has nothing to do with wh
 

Roland Martin

September 27 · Issue #31 · View online
Headmaster - City of London Freemen's school; Chief Officer - City of London; Chair - Society of Heads - '...write things worth reading, or do things worth the writing' Benjamin Franklin

‘Mind the gap!’ Neil Gaiman, Neverwhere
'My Dad says that being a Londoner has nothing to do with where you’re born. He says that there are people who get off a jumbo jet at Heathrow, go through immigration waving any kind of passport, hop on the tube and by the time the train’s pulled into Piccadilly Circus they’ve become a Londoner.’  Ben Aaronovitch, Moon Over Soho

#cityfamily City of London Academy Hackney & City of London Freemen's School at Eton College
#cityfamily
I’m sure we can all cite instances of negativity being directed at independent schools in a haves vs have-nots division. It’s not always fairly aimed. 
We’re really thrilled at City of London Freemen’s School to be smashing down some walls here as we take our place in the #cityfamily. We don’t have to make partnerships with other schools, we do it because we want to, because we believe that we are #strongertogether and that we all have so much to learn and to give across sectors, across age, gender, race and ability ranges, across Greater London. The City Corporation is well in line with Tristram Hunt’s directive of 2014 to connect academies and independent schools, and we have plenty of work to do under our City of London umbrella to reach out hands of friendship and collaboration across our brother and sister primary schools, senior schools and academies. We know that we might not be the obvious school to be making these connections - it must be a great deal easier to form alliances if you are geographically on each other’s doorsteps, and we are 40 minutes out of Waterloo or Victoria by train - but we have the impetus to drive the connections forward: only connect! 
We are not ’a finishing school for oligarchs’, nor are we blessed with an endowment … but we are blessed with good relatives. We are well-connected in the City and intend to use those family ties for the greater good of anyone who attends a City of London Corporation school. Last week, some of our pupils and staff made a joint trip out to Eton College - yes, somewhere with a vast endowment, but somewhere where I’ve been lucky enough to make connections that we are fortunate to sustain - together with colleagues and pupils from the City of London Academy, Hackney, to see Shakespeare’s First Folio amidst an expertly curated exhibition of Shakespeare in performance. The trip was an enrichment opportunity for year 11 students thinking of studying English Literature through to A Level - something I’d heartily recommend, obviously! I include some photographs of that trip here, and some comments from parents from Freemen’s.
Collaborative research
Shakespeare in stone
Checking out the First Folio
One parent: it was ‘a wonderful opportunity for them to work with other schools.’
To summarise another: ‘it was a refreshing experience and good for the pupils to go there and meet others.’
Freemen's and CoLA Hackney students in Eton College library
In Eton's College Hall - new friends #cityfamily
Our staff members who accompanied the trip came back enthused and inspired, and singularly impressed by both schools’ children. The Corporation asks us to Lead, to Empower, to Trust, as you will have heard me say in speeches, or indeed perhaps have read me saying as much before on here. My Senior Leadership Team and I have adapted some of those ideas for our new school mission statement. I was proud to hear that there were certainly some empowered leaders amongst the Hackney and Freemen’s number on Thursday, no matter what the family into which they were born.
The City of London Freemen's Orphan School, Brixton, 'Wellcome Library, London'
Historically, outreach to and support of children who could not easily access schooling, way before Victorian charters made education viable for all, is in our genetic code. We were founded in 1850, moving into purpose built school accommodation in Ferndale Road, Brixton, for ‘the maintenance and the religious and virtuous education of orphans of Freemen of the City of London’ shortly after. In 1919, a Board of Education report suggested that the pupils be 'brought into contact with more fortunate children so that they would not feel inferior or dependent’ - whatever that meant! Somewhere along the line - possibly coincidentally with moving out of our London site to Ashtead Park in 1926, definitely with starting to accept day students paying fees thereafter - we have lost some sight of that original mission. Let’s be clear, I’m not for one minute suggesting that we disband all fees here and take the school back to its orphanage days - I’m not naive enough to think that such a route would bring us progress, and you need a whopping endowment for that kind of institution too - but I am wholly committed to changing the lives of children with academic potential who could not access our education because of their parents’ limited means, by widening financial access to Freemen’s. I’d disagree with Hunt that, 'Labour has acted most effectively in bridging the public-private divide’ by scrapping assisted places (as you know, I was a fan of them), but I do agree with some of this paragraph, directly quoted from The Guardian:
“However, it needs to work both ways. Those working in the state sector could do more to acknowledge that for all the advantages of selection and wealth that private schools enjoy, they also contain world-beating educational attributes. In subject knowledge, pupil confidence, co-curricular activity, and staff development, independent schools have lessons for the state sector. In turn, private schools have a great deal to learn from mainstream schooling on whole-class teaching, modern British values, student engagement and, indeed, value for money. This has to be a relationship of respectful, advantageous interaction.”
I would have to say that two of the opportunities from which I learnt the most as a School Leader - the former NCSL’s Leadership Pathways and The Farmington Trust’s Heads’ Forum - both involved partnership work between state and independent sectors; I would also say that I did learn more from my colleagues in the state sector than I did from my peers in the independent sector. Working together on Thursday, colleagues from Freemen’s and Hackney benefited, I’d hedge my bets, as much as their students, from this coming-together over common ground.
I happily align myself with the Sutton Trust here: 
“Low social mobility and lack of educational opportunity is arguably the biggest social challenge of our times: the income gap between the richest and poorest in society continues to widen, while education opportunities remain overwhelmingly dominated by children from the most privileged homes.”
And so, part of my remit within and without my school is not just to ‘mind’ but also to address this 'gap’ - perceived and real - in whatever ways I can. 
As is often the case, Sir Anthony Seldon has been one of the first out of the blocks to comment on the temperature of things educational in response to Mrs May’s request that we ‘help’ state partners. Interesting that he uses a phrase which one can find in our Outreach section of the school website - it is in our DNA to help. Interesting too, that he advises a model, as did Hunt, for state and private schools to work together under some sort of academy trust … The City of London Corporation works in such a way for its growing number of #cityfamily schools.
Private schools want to help, Mrs May, but they need support, not threats
Sir Anthony suggests that small, often rural, private schools struggle to ‘help’ but would be very happy so to do if they received some aid themselves. From my own research through the Society of Heads, I know for sure that there would be countless school leaders lining up to match financially disadvantaged pupils unflinchingly to places, were there money in the coffers or - more pertinently - government funds (yes, we’re back on to assisted places again) to enable such worthy gifts. We are lucky at Freemen’s to be well-connected: geographically, we do not struggle to fill our school in heavily peopled Surrey; unlike some of the rural independent schools to which Sir Anthony alludes, we are consistently over-subscribed; our Admissions team has to disappoint parents almost daily, parents ringing to ask if there is space in year 'x’ or 'y’. 
We are lucky to be well-connected with our London governors who support and encourage innovation and diversity. 
I am lucky to be supported in my quest to widen opportunity and increase bursary provision where there is genuine need. 
If May wants Britain to be the meritocracy of the world, I’d certainly make a strong case for London being the meritocracy of the country, and the City of London Corporation’s education movers and shakers really being behind the future meritocracy of our children’s education.
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