At Watson’s we are keen to co-create mutually beneficial community and educational partnerships. But what does this mean? Why are we doing this, who does it really benefit and what challenges does this present?
This article is by way of a reflection on our school’s ‘partnership journey’ so far, considering some of the inherent opportunities and philosophical tensions and looking at some current examples of this collaborative work in practice.
We are immensely privileged to work in partnership with so many inspirational community and educational organisations, locally and internationally, and are grateful to them for the opportunities for learning and reflection these collaborations bring to our school community.
Partnership: a Reflection
We are increasingly reflective about the importance of language in our partnership work. The way we define this work – its philosophical underpinnings, if you like – and the language we use informs everything: from our aims and conversations with partners and internal colleagues to our approach to pupil involvement and ultimately what collaborative activities we engage in.
We are on a partnership journey, like many independent schools, moving away from concepts such as ‘outreach’ which suggest superiority or imparting of expertise to those needing our ‘help’. The narrative of ‘partnership’ is, rather, about building strong relationships, reciprocity, questioning assumptions, listening to the knowledge of others, co-production, mutual learning and critical friendship. It is also about thinking reflexively and in terms of social justice rather than about our own charitable benevolence. This is as true for our cross-sector partnerships with state schools as it is for some of our charitable/community partnerships, such as with the Edinburgh Food Project.
Yet the concept of partnership can also be problematic, particularly when activities do not readily reflect this narrative of mutuality and equality. As we continue on this journey, we need to consider whether our ‘partnership’ projects are in reality ‘outreach’ in disguise. Though we feel this is not the case for most of our work, we are aware that a different lens could sometimes paint the picture in this way.
We are also aware of the inherent tension between the school’s charity status – i.e. the need to provide charitable benefit – and this desire for mutuality. Local and national political debates reinforce this inherent conflict, with questions asked about VAT exemption and the very moral existence of an independent sector. It can therefore be tempting for independent schools to highlight their philanthropic contribution to state schools, which can stimulate suspicion of possible transactional motives and undermine aspirations for equality in cross-sector relationships.
Nonetheless, we feel that a balance can be struck. We can continue to aim for co-creation of partnership activities with school and community partners. In doing this, we will continue to reap much benefit, whether that be, for example, for our pupils in learning experientially about life beyond Watson’s or our staff in gaining insights into different pedagogical or curricular approaches. At the same time, as an independent school our infrastructure and flexibility lends itself to facilitating these activities. Partnership working, after all, takes time, which is never in abundant supply for educational and charitable organisations, particularly now given the magnitude of challenges being faced.
Alongside partners, we feel we can also play our part in pushing for systemic change, breaking down barriers between education sectors and considering what we can do collectively for all of our young people.
Many of our educational partnership activities are now well established and we continue to try to build on these. Some examples of projects these projects are:
Swire Chinese Language Centre Edinburgh
This has been our flagship collaboration since its inception in 2016. Established between three partner schools, Boroughmuir High, James Gillespie’s High and Watson’s, the original aims to increase access to high quality, certificated Chinese language (Mandarin) and cultural learning for pupils of all abilities and backgrounds still hold true.
Mandarin has now been embedded from S1-S6 alongside other modern languages in a number of high schools to the point where they have secured sustainability by employing their own teachers of Chinese (Boroughmuir, James Gillespie’s, Castlebrae and Tynecastle). We are continuing to work with other schools – Knox Academy, North Berwick High, Liberton and Queensferry – to follow suit within this upcoming final three years of Swire Chinese Language Foundation funding. Our Centre’s schools accounted for more than a quarter of Scotland’s National 5 Mandarin entries this session.
It has also been exciting this year to re-introduce a fully funded overseas trip for some of our partnership pupils: 18 Castlebrae and Tynecastle pupils had a fantastic (but hot!) experience in Taiwan, by all accounts.
This partnership with Boroughmuir High School and James Gillespie’s High School is also being built on through the launch of the new South Edinburgh Schools Combined Cadet Force (SES CCF), which aims to develop personal responsibility, leadership and self-discipline. Pupils from all three schools will be able to join the Army section; expansion to include other schools and the establishment of other CCF sections will take place as part of programme development.
Edinburgh Computer Science and Engineering in Schools (ECSES) programme
This programme aims to give young people inclusive access to computer science and engineering, tackling some of the challenges schools in Edinburgh, as elsewhere, face in recruiting and retaining teachers of Computer Science (CS) in particular. We have collectively raised around £260,000 for this 3-year programme and are keen to secure the remaining £110,000 to bring all aspects to life.
After years of working with partner schools to develop our coding and CS provision, this project takes things a step further. We have successfully recruited a high school CS teacher who from August will be based partially at Castlebrae Community Campus (previously Castlebrae High School) and partially at GWC. He will work with the Watson’s Senior School team and Castlebrae to develop the programme strands – teacher pipeline, enrichment and employer engagement and curriculum development – which will benefit both schools. A Watson’s Junior School teacher will also be seconded part time to work similarly with Leith Primary School and other schools in that cluster, as well as with Broomhouse and Castleview primary schools.
Castlebrae Community Campus
Rather than perhaps more superficial partnerships with many schools, we have found that linking more closely with fewer schools provides more meaningful, impactful opportunities for all involved. I am fortunate to be seconded for a day a week to Castlebrae, which gives me an opportunity to gain valuable insights into the school community and to build relationships with colleagues in different roles across the school. This is leading to some exciting new partnership activity starting next session, including Watson’s being part of Castlebrae’s aspirations to establish their own Pipe Band, which could represent an innovative new state-independent school model for replication elsewhere. We are also piloting the Roots Programme, which will bring a group of S3 pupils together from each of the two schools to learn from one another, challenge preconceptions and build mutual solidarity.
Ukrainian pupil group
With the appalling ongoing conflict in Ukraine, many Ukrainians are currently based in Edinburgh, though their accommodation is often temporary and they may not remain here. This has created significant strain on City of Edinburgh Council (CEC) schools, which over recent years have already increased capacity to welcome newcomers from Afghanistan and Hong Kong, amongst a myriad of other countries. There has been a particular issue with school places for S2/3 age Ukrainian children.
We, along with colleagues in some other Edinburgh independent schools including ESMS, worked with CEC to put in place a pilot at Watson’s, whereby pupils who either did not have a school place or who for some reason were struggling at or not attending their schools could come to GWC for a day a week for a ‘well-being’ day. The emphasis was on building in activities that the pupils enjoyed – e.g. swimming, practical chemistry, photography, outdoor activities – along with support for learning English from the CEC and GWC EAL teachers. It meant that some of our S5 pupils taking TEFL enrichment were also able to gain experience. There were many positive outcomes to this, from new friendships amongst the pupil group to giving Watson’s teachers the chance to think about pedagogical strategies for teaching a group of non-English speakers. We were also pleased to be able to take one pupil on an S3 Project, which was testament to his resilience and bravery to spend two physically demanding weeks away with strangers in a new country and with no phone! He seemed to very much enjoy the experience.
We are hoping to build on this pilot next session with CEC for newcomers to Edinburgh from any country who might respond well to this kind of provision.
There is often overlap between what we call our community and charity partners, since many of the community organisations we work with are also ‘official’ charities we link with as a school. Activities this year include:
Intergenerational partnership with Ashley Court Care Home
We have various links with a number of local care homes, whether that be through senior pupil volunteering, or visits by pupils to hone their musical performance skills, or the invitation we extend for care home residents to join us for the community performance of the Senior Show. Our new project with Ashley Court Care Home this year has extended this work, with a group of P1s or Pre-School pupils visiting residents on Wednesday afternoons. It has been lovely to see the joy that this brings all involved and, anecdotally, seems to echo the benefits that are talked about in research on intergenerational links.
Pupil experiential learning opportunities
Our S5/6 pupils have the opportunity to volunteer in local community organisations or schools during their enrichment sessions, gaining valuable insights into life out with Watson’s and learning from others, as well as bringing their own skills and (usually!) sunny dispositions to wherever they go. We are grateful to all our school, community and charity partners that extend these opportunities to our pupils. The Senior School food and uniform bank group and Junior School Charities Pupil Voice group learned from Edinburgh Food Project and Edinburgh School Uniform Bank about who accesses these services and why, and about the scale of the operations, before embarking on their own food and uniform collection campaigns.
Community Sport Hub
The charity Sporting Start and Watsonian Cricket and Hockey clubs have been hugely supportive of our work with other schools to increase access to these sports which now extends to the Gracemount, Firhill and Leith cluster primary schools.
We have also run projects this year for adults to access, designed to encourage physical activity and the mental and emotional benefits that come with this. Our new crop of incredibly encouraging and boundlessly energetic volunteer run leaders have joined with last year’s pioneers to continue the ‘On The Run’ running group, with opportunities for beginners and improvers. We have also dipped our toes in the social prescribing water, piloting a project in partnership with Hermitage Medical Practice whereby GPs refer older people and people living with long term conditions to access postural stability and fall prevention classes. This has sought to tackle social isolation as well as build confidence and independence among participants.
Charitable partnerships and fundraising
We aim to establish partnerships with all of the designated school charities so that our school community can gain awareness of the issues that they are addressing as well as look to fundraise on their behalf. This is most clearly evident in our Watson’s Malawi Partnership work, through which 50 S5/6 pupils embarked on a trip to Malawi in October. Through linking with our Malawian partner organisations, this trip seeks to give pupils a greater sense of global understanding and, as part of this, new perspectives on global issues such as inequality, poverty and injustice and reflection on their own privilege and agency to act.
We have had the privilege of being one of The Eric Liddell Community’s partners in planning celebrations of the legacy of Eric Liddell, as the centenary since his success at the 1924 Olympic Games approaches. The ambitious The Eric Liddell 100 programme of events and activities has been designed to recognise and celebrate positive sporting and community values. We are grateful to Gemma Burton, part of the GWC PE teaching team, for her work during her partial secondment to the ELC to develop and pilot a cross-curricular resource for use across Scottish schools.
Through the generosity of the Watson’s community, we have raised more than £40,000 this year for our charity partners. This has been through signature school fundraising events, such as Charities Day or Winter Jumper Day, but also through individual pupils and members of staff creating opportunities to fundraise for causes they are passionate about.
GWC Community & Educational Partnerships Manager