Transforming lives

Photo: Homefield Preparatory School

A bursary can completely change a disadvantaged young person's life. John Towers, Headmaster of Homefield Preparatory School in Sutton, explains how his school set up a programme to help children in care – and how other schools can do the same.

Across the independent schools' sector, partnerships with state schools and community organisations are flourishing. The Schools Together website shines a light on this picture with nearly 6,000 vignettes of partnership outcomes sharing transformational impact. Many of the larger schools have formalised and significant partnerships, for example as sponsors of state multi-academy trust schools; elsewhere, even modest sized schools have committed to action and our prep school in South London is such an example.

Back at my school's founding in 1870, we were surrounded by farmland. But as the railways and London grew to embrace us, we grew with our locality. There is more diversity than you may think within the independent sector. In our school, 80% of our families are from ethnic minority backgrounds and with a joyous mix of language, culture, religion and socio-economic experience. Such diversity brings intellectual and social capacity to a community. More than characteristics, such as gender or ethnicity, this diversity usefully manifests in what life experience is brought to the game – how people think and act.

In the 21st century, parents are cogent of the need for cultural capital from a school as well as ‘soft skills’, such as the ability to organise or to collaborate. We need critical thinkers who can benefit from diversity and thrive in a rapidly changing future of work and society. Prospective parents resonate with who we are and how we act, in sharp contrast to outdated private school stereotypes. They are delighted to learn that I do not report to shareholders, but to a board of volunteers from the local community. They are assured that, with our modest surplus, we plan ahead to realise charitable impact: a civic minded school.

With this diversity and purpose in mind, we have invested targeted bursary funding and resources to identify and support some of the most vulnerable children in our locality. Looked After Children (LAC) are those in the care of the Local Authority, who are placed with foster carers, in residential homes or with other relatives. My school – Homefield – partnered with Sutton Local Authority and the 'Virtual School for LAC' to include this vulnerable group within our provision. We collaborated to develop an identification tool and process before enrolling LAC students into our school on full bursaries.

John Towers and Richard Backhouse discuss the transformative effect of bursaries.

John Towers is the Headmaster of Homefield Preparatory School in Sutton.