TES Independent-State School Partnership Award Nomination

Wellington College has been recognised for the award due to the extensive work it has done over the last year to help state schools tackle the problems they faced due to the pandemic.

Tes editor Jon Severs said: ‘After a difficult year for all schools, it is an honour to celebrate the Tes Independent School Awards, not only to celebrate excellent practice but to ensure that practice is shared far and wide.

We received an unparalleled number of entries this year, which is testament to the great work all have done during the pandemic. The schools that have been shortlisted should be proud – it’s a remarkable achievement’.

Pre-pandemic, the College hosted over 2,000 state school students per academic year to successfully run enrichment days, events for able students, subject specific days in STEM subjects, languages, sport, music and personal development, as well as revision skills, university applications, wellbeing, and the Oxbridge Support Programme with talks and lectures for sixth form students. In addition, students were invited to educational conferences on leadership, sport, environment/sustainability, university information fairs and US college applications. Wellington also offers a more bespoke programme for 100 selected state school students known as the Wheeler Programme, where 20 Year 9 students are chosen and supported for five years until their graduation at the end of Year 13.

Since the start of the Covid crisis, all our ISSP programmes have been successfully adapted to be delivered online. We caught up with Sue Parker, the ISSP and Wheeler Programme coordinator to find out more about the work the College has been doing in this vital area of education.

Firstly, a huge congratulations on being nominated for this award. Please could you explain a bit about the work you have been doing this year with our state school partners?

It is a huge honour to be nominated for this award and to be recognised for our partnership work within our local community and beyond. When the very first lockdown commenced, we had to cancel the remainder of the ISSP programme of events that we had planned. This was a huge disappointment for the students, but we quickly put plans in place to try to support our partner schools where we could.

We ran our Oxbridge Support Programme via regular newsletters updating them of changes to the application/interview process as they were confirmed and sent invitations to schools for their students to join Wellington College lectures, talks and enrichment opportunities. In the Wheeler Programme we had just welcomed our newest cohort of Year 9 students to the College for their first induction day. Unfortunately, they were unable to visit the College again for their first residential course in June. Instead we very quickly set up a virtual 5-day course for all of the Wheeler groups with tailored programmes run by Wellington College teachers for each year group as well as 1:1 coaching sessions for all students.

The Wheeler Programme pupils arrive on site for a residential course in 2018. Unfortunately, this year, due to the pandemic they were unable to visit the College. Instead, our ISSP team set up a comprehensive virtual 5-day course.

In September, we started to deliver our Oxbridge Support Programme online. All our usual events were successfully delivered in this format including an ‘Introduction to Oxbridge’ event attended by 280 students! We supported all Year 13 partnership students who applied to Oxbridge, keeping them up to date with the changes in the application process and arranging 75 online mock interviews with Wellington College teachers. Following the same format, we introduced new online events such as an information evening about making Music applications to university.

The Wheeler Programme shifted from study days to online study evenings so students could access the same programme after their school day. We responded to each group’s needs by delivering a bespoke programme for each cohort. During these sessions we have delivered catch up classes for academic subjects, subject tutoring, 1:1 coaching and mentoring sessions, sessions on mental health and wellbeing and more. Some of the Year 12 and 13 students also attended Investin online careers events.

Who is involved in the making the programme work? How do Wellington College staff and pupils get involved?

The ISSP/Wheeler core team comprises me, Vicki Scholefield and Sarah Donarski supported by Iain Henderson along with a small team of ISSP specialist teachers. We couldn’t deliver the vast range of activities without the fantastic contribution made by the Wellington community and teaching body. Whether it’s teaching classes, coaching students, running sports/outdoor sessions, supporting students in the boarding houses, providing catering, and setting up the conference rooms, it’s a huge team effort that makes the programmes run so successfully.

Furthermore, we try to embed Wellington College initiatives within the programmes to encourage partnership working. We advertised to the partnership schools a number of the online talks and lectures this year encouraging students to attend. We send out regular newsletters using information supplied to us by the careers/university team and nearly 70 parents/students attended the online University Fair.

Last summer all Wellington students were given the book, ‘Factfulness’ to read. As this coincided with our virtual summer course, we sent a copy to all the Wheeler students as well, along with all the information shared with the Wellington College students. The Library also ran a book club session for the students. The older students are also introduced to WellyConnect and encouraged to sign up and use the resources it contains as they start to think about careers.

During some of the Wheeler Programme online study sessions we introduced the students to a Wellington student who talked to them about study skills and revision techniques and ways to work effectively online while at home. This is something we are seeking to encourage further especially for the older Wheeler students studying A Levels and preparing for university.

Wheeler Programme students taking part in outdoor pursuits run by teachers at Wellington College.

During the pandemic why has this work been even more important and how has it affected how you operate the programme?

Due to the pandemic we haven’t been able to welcome any state school students to Wellington College since last March. Since we usually see 2,000 students each year this was a huge change for us. We had to sit down as a team and work out how we could help our partnership schools, keeping as much of the original programme as we could. Some of our courses could not be replicated online but initiatives such as the Oxbridge and Wheeler programmes have successfully transitioned and, in some cases, we look forward to continuing to deliver a mix of online and in-person events in the future. We were very aware that students would have missed a lot of their schooling, particularly in the exam years, so we arranged to deliver a 2-week GCSE/A Level programme of online catch-up lessons in academic subjects.

Our partnership work with the Wheeler students has proved to be so beneficial for many of them during the pandemic. Our students are selected on the basis that they have been identified as needing extra support for many different reasons and during the pandemic this was even more apparent. Studying at home during lockdown, isolated from their classmates, we started to keep in touch with regular emails full of resources to aid online learning, helping them stay connected with someone who was ready to help or to listen. We provided support to the students and their families with advice and guidance on university applications, sixth form and A Level choices, support for mental health challenges, IT problems and help to access their online sessions, and much more. This has been very time consuming but very rewarding.

How does ISSP benefit both the pupils at partner schools and the pupils at Wellington College?

The ISSP benefits all students by showing them a world totally different to their own. For the ISSP students it opens their eyes to a different educational environment. It gives them the opportunity to engage with students from other schools. They get to explore subjects and topics outside of the standard curriculum which can help stretch their knowledge and understanding of the world. This shows them alternative perspectives and enhances future aspirations.

The Wheeler Programme has shown a positive change in students – in their achievements, attitude and confidence back in their own schools. It has enhanced their interest and engagement in their subjects and helped them make decisions for the future.

What are your aspirations for the programme in the next few years?

Initially, we are looking forward to welcoming students back to Wellington College. We also want to take this opportunity to look at the programme and its different initiatives to see how we can support our partner schools and help them with their current needs rather than just carry on as before. The pandemic has made us deliver courses in different ways, which has proved to be a positive experience, and I can see us continuing to deliver some elements of our programmes online. We will be looking to expand the programme but in a way that does not compromise on the quality of the provision.

A Wheeler Programme student playing golf at Wellington College in 2018. Sue Parker said: ‘We are looking forward to welcoming students back to Wellington College’.

Sadly, the awards night cannot be held in person this year. For the very first time, Tes Independent School Awards winners will be announced at a virtual ceremony on Friday 30 April 2021.

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