Schools and industry in Cambridge show the power of partnerships
A “life-changing” partnership that aims to address inequalities, raise aspirations and help improve prospects for students in north Cambridge will mark its first anniversary this month.
The partnership between North Cambridge Academy, the Stephen Perse Foundation and Costello Medical gives young people the opportunities and skills to succeed through curriculum expansion, bursaries and work experience.
“It really does impact later on in life and it would be wonderful if more students like me from Cambridge could have this opportunity and use it to their advantage,” said bursary beneficiary Maisie, a lower sixth-form student.
Cambridge remains the most unequal city in the UK and is known as a social mobility ‘cold spot’.
It is a fact that children from disadvantaged backgrounds perform less well at school, and are less likely to go to university, than those from wealthier families.
Even before Covid, children from disadvantaged families were, on average, 22.7 months behind non-disadvantaged pupils in their academic achievement.
North Cambridge Academy principal Sam Fox said: “There is a higher deprivation index here than in a vast majority of other areas in Cambridge, and where Cambridge is unique is it’s sometimes a more polarised community than many other cities – not only do you have disadvantage, but you have disadvantage surrounded by affluence and privilege. I think that’s a barrier for raising aspirations.”
Under the partnership six 100 per cent bursaries at the Stephen Perse Foundation’s sixth form were awarded to Year 11 students at NCA who demonstrated academic potential but who had been particularly negatively impacted by the pandemic. Going forward both schools hope this number will become the minimum amount offered each year.
One of these six bursaries was fully funded by Cambridge company Costello Medical.
“The scholarship bursary programme is fundamentally an exceptional opportunity for young people and a tool we use to drive forward aspirations and give students the vehicle to go into a very prestigious academic sixth form, giving them equally the opportunities to step into the highest universities,” explained Mr Fox. “That can’t be underestimated. This school has been winning back the trust of the community, and creating that partnership speaks to a group that weren’t really looking at this school.”
The vision of the partnership is for a long-term collaboration designed to benefit students in both schools as well as the wider community, and use the power of education to drive change and equip young people with the skills they need to take on the big global challenges they will inherit.
Mr Fox continued: “It really helps the aspirations within the school and the belief in the school and the understanding that our young people can go on to achieve whatever they put their mind to if they work hard and believe. The partnership has really helped in creating a culture of belief.
“There’s also the work they’ve done to help us create a broad balance and academically rigorous curriculum.
Another of the bursary recipients, lower sixth student Alistair, said the partnership had made the “big jump” from secondary school to sixth form “as seamless as possible”. Students also benefit from smaller class sizes.
Alistair said: “From A-level preparation sessions at NCA in summer Year 11 to weekly meetings with a teacher at the Stephen Perse, both schools have been nothing but supportive, and I have loved having the ability to go back to my old secondary to help teach maths.”
Maisie added: “It sounds clichéd, but it is life-changing to have this experience to study at the Stephen Perse Sixth Form in such an inspiring environment.”
For the Stephen Perse Foundation, the partnership supports the values of the school’s founder, with a belief in the primacy of education as a tool for social mobility.
Stephen Perse Foundation principal Richard Girvan told the Cambridge Independent: “I’m really keen as principal that that’s a value that we continue to uphold, that we recognise our responsibility as an independent school to broaden access and to widen access.”
But it’s also helped to foster a community where inspiration and learning takes place on both sides.
“They [NCA students] benefit not only from fantastic teaching and learning opportunities, they also benefit from a phenomenal community and lots of co-curricular activities the teachers have laid on for them. Not because they’re paid to do it but because they really improve the lives of young people that work. And that’s for me, that’s been a huge inspiration,” said Mr Girvan, who has joined the NCA Council.
“I get a much richer opportunity to visit and to learn about the work that we’re doing and that’s inspiring for me. And it’s also instructive because whilst we’re dealing with different problems, some of the time we’re also dealing with common challenges that all schools are going through. So where there is mutuality and experience, there’s an opportunity for soundboarding, there’s an opportunity to learn and collaborate.”
The support from Stephen Perse’s teaching capacity has helped NCA to expand its curriculum by offering subjects such as Latin and further mathematics.
“An extra energy has been brought to that further commitment to that I think we’ve had a range of different opportunities. We’ve got further maths come through teaching from Stephen Perse. We’ve had languages come with Latin classes, we’ve had the classic classes,” said Mr Fox, who said there was a desire to expand that further in the future by sharing teaching staff and offering opportunities across both sites to trainee teachers.
The schools are also looking at how they can share facilities to bring the two schools even closer.
Costello Medical joined the partnership after hearing a talk from the charitable foundation director at Stephen Perse, Heidi Hall, on tackling inequality in the city at a Cambridge 2030 event.
Cambridge 2030, which is supported by the Cambridge Independent, aims to bring together the public, private, voluntary and community sectors in collaborative action to bridge gaps in provision and resources across the city.
“We’re not one of those independent schools that has the benefit of an endowment to be able to generate bursary funding annually through an investment fund,” explained Mr Girvan. “Therefore, any funding that goes towards bursary provision is funding that we need to find.
“That’s the start of what we believe will become a growing partnership between us not just in terms of provision of funds, but also in terms of providing support to those students as they take the time through sixth form and prepare for further study or the world of work.
“With opportunities like work experience, mentoring, coaching, interviews, and those sorts of things that are actually hugely beneficial to a child who doesn’t have that assistant network within their own family or within their own connections at school.
“That’s one of the things that kids from independent schools generally benefit from, in stark contrast to some others, is that that’s your ability to access an assisted network.”
Costello Medical has been so impressed with the ongoing partnership that it has committed to funding the bursary in policy – and as the company grows it hopes to increase the number of students it can support.
The partnership will be celebrated on March 21 at Costello Medical in Station Road, Cambridge.
The ‘Power of Partnership’ event will feature a series short presentations, followed by an informal networking opportunity.