outreach programmes

Making a difference: outreach programmes

Making the difference: outreach programmes

Jenny Booth looks at how schools are making a difference with outreach programmes, and the benefits for both pupils and their communities

Providing a first-class education is not enough for most schools – they are also striving to make the world a better place. From creating wildflower meadows to helping disadvantaged students catch up after Covid, schools and pupils are engaging with the community through outreach programmes that offer benefits to everyone involved.  

The outreach comes in many different forms. Almost every school expects its students to volunteer at some point. The pandemic made face-to-face visits to elderly people impossible, but undeterred the pupils at St Hilary’s Prep School – one of the first dementia-friendly schools in the UK (a programme which aims to raise awareness and help those with the condition) sent paintings to elderly residents at a care home, and held online ‘Knit and Knatter’ sessions to handcraft woollen muffs with items attached inside and out to keep dementia patients’ hands busy, providing stimulation to ease the anxiety and restlessness experienced with the disease.  

At Gordon’s School, a unique state boarding school near Woking, design teacher Tom Webb led the production of thousands of clear Covid visors for use at Frimley Park maternity unit and GP and vet surgeries across the area.  

Pupils and staff at Reigate Grammar School rose brilliantly to the Covid challenge, finding ways to relieve the financial and emotional hardships in society caused by the pandemic. “Charity work exploded,” says Michelle Morgan, a spokesperson for RGS, which was named 2021 Independent School of the Year for Community Outreach and has been shortlisted in the 2021 Social Mobility Awards, the first national awards introduced to acknowledge organisations making a difference within their community. “We collected nappies, stationery, uniform and clothing for Stripey Stork, a charity that helps vulnerable families and babies; we raised money and awareness for Mind; our Combined Cadet Force completed the Poppy run for the Armed-Forces charities, and many more. We operated drive-through food banks with Loveworks Charity. Donations were received from over 200 RGS families which filled three RGS mini-buses.”   

Students from Putney High turned their attention to the environment, clearing scrub on Wimbledon Common to maintain different wildlife habitats. “Bushwhacking was so much fun! It was great to see our progress,” says Ella, a Year 12 biology student. Peter Haldane of Wimbledon and Putney Common Conservators commented that the girls did an excellent job. Meanwhile Year 7 and 8 boys from Rokeby School, a preparatory school near Kingston, also cared for the environment by picking litter in public spaces, as well as helping elderly neighbours and volunteering in soup kitchens.  

Most independent schools were already partnered with nearby state schools when Covid hit, partnerships that could involve anything from providing specialist teaching to joint careers evenings. Students from Queen Anne’s School in Caversham led Mandarin lessons, helped with English reading and comprehension and provided Oxbridge interview mentoring in other schools – activities that have proved to benefit the tutors as much as the tutees. Queen Anne’s music department shares its facilities, and the computer science department helps upskill teachers across the Reading area.  

Some school pupils had their learning interrupted particularly badly during the Covid lockdowns. Rising to the challenge of helping these pupils to catch up was Emanuel School, which consulted its partner schools to identify ways to help close the gap. Emanuel’s Saturday morning sessions during the Summer Term for 30 Year 5 pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds have generated very positive feedback, with a session dissecting owl pellets in the science labs proving a particular hit.   

Emanuel is one of the 14 independent schools partnering with 48 Wandsworth state schools in the borough-wide Ascent initiative which started last month, to share teaching and learning in local clusters. Around 1,000 children are expected to benefit from projects to provide enrichment and mentoring and to raise aspirations through access to science, arts and sports facilities.   

The initiative will also provide professional development for teachers. Says Richard Byrne-Smith, head of Hotham School in Putney: “It has been a pleasure to work with our colleagues in the independent sector to explore what we can do to bring our communities closer together as this demanding year comes to a close.”     

At Putney High School, which is in Ascent’s Roehampton cluster, Year 7 & 8 pupils fundraised to provide 120 holiday activity boxes for local children this summer, working in pairs to raise the £12 cost of each box. Putney is also creating a pipeline of future innovators, working with six local schools to build an autonomous robot to compete in the ‘The Ultimate Goal’ game – a challenge that hones students’ skills in design, project management and software engineering. Suzi Longstaff, head of Putney High, adds that Ascent is the embodiment of Putney’s drive for personal responsibility under the banner ‘It Starts With Me’. “We’re seeing more and more how our students are actively wanting to find ways that they can make a tangible difference and our involvement in [Ascent] provides an opportunity to do just that,” she says.   

Scholarships and means-tested bursaries are a traditional way for private schools to share their privileged status. In one of the more unusual examples, Gordon’s School has partnered with Harlequins Rugby Club to offer full scholarships and a pathway into sport to talented young rugby players aged 16-18. Inspired by the sacrifice and dedication of workers in the NHS and beyond during Covid, Reigate Grammar School – which already has 170 pupils on means-tested support – has set up 10 new Nightingale bursaries for the children of key workers, paid for by hundreds of community donations. “They are a thankyou to our key worker community,” says RGS head, Shaun Fenton.  

The enrichment that comes from outreach programmes works both ways. The community benefits – but so too do the students who carry out caring tasks. Giving is very good for the soul. Carrina Tunnicliffe, a spokesperson for Rokeby School, notes: “The feedback from the boys’ Reflection Journals show that they have thoroughly enjoyed helping in their communities and that helping other people has given them a sense of satisfaction whilst increasing self-confidence as well as making other people’s lives better.”