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Radley College link with Desborough College

Desborough College is an Academy (sponsored by the Education Fellowship Trust) with pupils aged between 11 and 18. It was judged Good by Ofsted in 2014.


Desborough’s governors, The Education Fellowship (TEF) and an excellent new Principal, Paul Frazer, were keen to draw on Radley’s expertise in educating boys, and in developing a first class educational experience for the pupils. Radley’s aims were several. There was a straightforward desire simply to help, a recognition that in certain disciplines Radley was extremely fortunate to have first class subject practitioners, who it might share; there was also a belief that its ethos of high expectations, teacher dedication and excellence in every aspect of school life was transferable. We hoped that Radley dons (teachers) and boys would learn from maintained school colleagues and from the Desborough pupils. Finally the aspiration was to help Desborough on its journey to ‘Outstanding’ in a future Ofsted inspection.


In 2012 at the invitation of TEF, sponsors of a multi-academy chain, Radley committed itself to be the educational partner of Desborough School in Maidenhead, which subsequently changed its name to Desborough College to reflect this new relationship. Desborough was an all-boys comprehensive which at that time ‘Required Improvement’; its poor exam results and underwhelming local reputation was reflected in a vertiginous drop in numbers from c.1050 to 650 pupils in the three years up to and including 2012.

The recently retired Sub Warden of Radley College, Andrew Reekes, was appointed to manage and facilitate the links. He and another Radley don became governors of Desborough. A close and warm collaboration has developed with Desborough’s Principal. The success of the partnership has been built on mutual trust, and the absence of any resentment at all at a better-resourced partner, which was free of many of the pressures bedevilling Desborough.

Radley quickly learnt that the most effective way of partnering Desborough was not to be prescriptive but to respond to requests for help. So, for the past four years Radley Science teachers have run weekly after-school IGCSE revision classes for large groups of Desborough Y11 boys. Recently, this was extended to A2 Chemistry pupils attending revision classes. Classes for French IGCSE ran weekly for two terms last year. In these areas Desborough urgently needed support.

From the start Radley has been called on to train and help develop Desborough’s Heads of Department, many new and inexperienced. All of them visited Radley and spent a day observing lessons. One of the goals has been to encourage reflection on how boys can best be taught and encouraged, and outstanding classroom behaviour be developed. But more fundamentally the aim has been to inculcate the ambition to stretch all pupils, to demand more of them. Desborough’s Principal invited Radley’s HoDs to audit every Desborough department in 2014 with notable success; both auditor and audited enjoyed and learnt much from the experience of lesson observations, and work sampling. A series of professional reports on every department resulted. The opportunity to reflect on practice and how to improve was invaluable. The Principal believes that these links have provided unparalleled INSET for staff.

A hugely important initiative has been that of seconding Radley staff to Desborough to transfer some of the DNA which the Principal wanted to import. An experienced but youthful Maths Radley don was appointed on a year’s contract to be Desborough’s Head of Sixth Form. His impact was evidently extraordinary. He modelled outstanding teaching, achieving at the end of the year a clutch of A*s at A-level with Desborough mathematicians, results many at the school did not think possible. He transformed the Sixth Form work ethic, insisted on full attendance, on standards of dress and deportment, and was at the end credited by the Principal with having revolutionised the Sixth Form. Increased numbers applying to join the Sixth Form reflected this. Another Radley don, an experienced recently retired housemaster, will join Desborough for a year as (Academic) Deputy Principal in 2016.

Early on a need was identified for Desborough boys to experience stimulus beyond the exam syllabus. In 2013 a series of 10 after-school lectures for Years 11 to 12 by visiting Old Radleians, such as Andrew Strauss (England cricket captain) and Sir Charlie Mayfield (Chairman of John Lewis) ranged over subjects from the ‘Challenge of China’, to ‘Leadership Qualities’, ‘Setting up a Business’ to ‘Preparing for Employment’. In 2015/16 the focus has been on helping Desborough’s Gifted and Talented; 13 seminars led by visiting Radley dons, including the Warden, John Moule, challenged and stimulated some 40 of Desborough’s most able from Y8 to Y13 on subjects including ‘The Prisoner’s Dilemma’, ‘The Mutability of History’, ‘What Happens When You Run Out of Numbers?’ and ‘Risk’. The sessions have been impressive for the engagement and confidence of the pupils.

Radley was early on asked to halt the demise of Desborough’s rugby, which had a once formidable local reputation. Rugby camps for Desborough boys at Radley in the summer holidays; and weekly training from one of Radley’s most experienced coaches, John Sparks, reversed the decline to the extent that in 2014 Desborough 1st XV won 10 out of 12 matches, and won them all in 2015 including a victory over a Radley 2nd XV. It was not only Desborough rugby players who travelled to Radley; there have been annual Sixth Form Conferences at Radley attended by Desborough sixth formers, boys have joined in for full days of music making, drama workshops, shared art exhibitions, have received indoor cricket coaching and attended politics days.

In September 2014 Ofsted inspected Desborough; its overall judgement was ‘Good’, a reflection of the progress the school has unquestionably made and also of the reformation of the Sixth Form. Numbers are rising strongly; in 2012 only 67 boys joined in Y7; in 2016 180 are down to join. Radley takes great pride in Desborough’s revival and will be on call to help wherever possible to ensure that the ‘Outstanding’ judgement is achieved at the next inspection.