Joan Deslandes - head teacher at Kingsford Community School, Newham - addresses Westminster Education Forum on benefits of cross-sector partnerships

Joan Deslandes is the head teacher of Kingsford Community School in Newham. Under her leadership, Kingsford has gained national and international recognition as an IOE Confucius Classroom and her leadership has been recognised as ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted. Her school was the first in the United Kingdom to introduce compulsory lessons in Mandarin for all students and it became one of the first Confucius Classrooms in the world in 2007. In 2010, Joan became the first person to be awarded the SSAT Confucius Institute Excellence Award for her ‘outstanding contribution’ to Chinese learning within the United Kingdom. 

Below is the transcript of the speech Joan delivered to the Westminster Education Forum on 4th November, 2015. 

I’m really pleased to be here to share with you more or less a case study of my experience as a secondary State school Head of working in partnership with the independent sector and the many benefits that it’s brought mutually to both sectors.   My school, Kingsford Community School, is a mixed comprehensive school for pupils between the ages of 11 to 16, in the East End of London.  It opened in the dawn of the Millennium, in September 2000, and a significant number of our pupils are of poorer backgrounds, 60% of our pupils are entitled to free school meals, and we have high levels of economic and social deprivation, and also relatively high levels of what comes with that, such as crime and other challenges that our young people actually have to carry with them as they are being educated.

Being in partnership with a leading independent school, Brighton College, a school with pupil from the ages of 3 to 18, and also one of the leading in England, has brought many, many benefits to my school, but I can honestly say that those benefits have not just been for Kingsford, the benefits have been mutual. The partnership that we have has been reciprocal, and what brought our two schools together was indeed the fact that we were both the first schools in the country to introduce Mandarin for all, and the Head of Brighton College and myself met on a visit organised by the Chinese Embassy.   

Whilst we were on that visit we recognised that there was much that we could do to support young people and from our discussions we decided that we would set up a scholarship programme for able pupils who were going to be continuing the study of Mandarin, but whose circumstances meant that they might fall by the wayside if they didn’t have the strong pastoral environment that a boarding school sixth form could provide when they left Kingsford, because we only go up to 16. The convergence between our very different schools has provided much for us to share, and we’ve learnt a great deal from each other.   

We’ve recognised our common educational purpose through the work of our teachers and pupils working together, has meant that we have achieved goals that we had not ever realised were possible. Teachers and pupils have been involved in our partnership and they’ve valued and benefited from it, we’ve created relationships we consider to be advantageous, we have equal ownership of a common project and we also, as well as working between teachers and pupils, there are a range of activities my pupils benefit from in terms of the arts, in terms of music, my heads of department are able to learn from Brighton College who are particularly good at getting AA* in terms of improving our educational performance. At the beginning of our partnership we didn’t waste time in discussion over supposed parity of status and esteems and in comparing each other schools, as what we were both certain of, as the two Heads of these schools, is that both of our schools could be better and there are always things we could further develop.   What we had was a simple vision of what we wanted to do.  So our partnership provided a framework within which teachers and pupils work together for school improvement and to raise standards and raise aspirations for all the pupils.   

When we began the partnership the following were very important; clear realistic aims and objectives, truth, honesty and openness about what we were going to do and what our strengths and weaknesses were, and how we could contribute and support each other, and excitement about a journey that had so much potential, so long as we didn’t allow other people’s dogma to control our thinking. When considering if our project has raised standards, and whether benefits are quantifiable, I can certainly say that they are, because out of this project which began as a life boat for the few, we have developed a sixth form in the East End of London in Newham, called the London Academy of Excellence, which last year got the highest A‐Level results of any State sixth form in the country.  The majority of the pupils go on to Russell Group universities and we are delighted with how that has progressed.  That school is supported by several leading independent schools from around London and they all sponsor a department each and the establishment of this school has provided a model that others can learn from. Why has our partnership been successful?  There was correct timing and a willingness to make the partnership work, there was a shared vision, a knowledge that we could raise the aspirations of pupils in both sectors, despite all of the advantages that pupils in the independent sector with the glass floor have, and that we could break down misconceptions, preconceptions, misunderstandings between the two sectors and between the pupils from both sectors. There was great enthusiasm from the pupils of both schools and structural, political and ideological will and support from our governing bodies and local and national Government.   

From the experience of working with Brighton College and that developing into a sixth form called the London Academy of Excellence, I can say without any doubt that our independent and State collaboration is an inclusive educational encounter which is ethically sound as it allows mutual sharing and inclusive educational pursuits.  I would go further and say that what we are doing has a huge potential to produce enormous social and cultural benefits in developing a more cohesive society and that it is economically sensible as what we are doing is empowering some of the most disadvantages schools, individuals and families and tapping into reservoirs of vast potential ability.   

The education and innovation between Brighton and Kingsford has rejuvenated and motivated many more into effective partnership and this is an educational journey for other schools which has the potential to transform, not only individuals, but whole schools, whole families, whole areas.  It can transform our society and equip and empower us, as a nation, to become more competitive in facing the new challenges of our time, and of the future.   If you remember anything about the Kingsford and Brighton partnership model, it has never been about a deficit model, about us being a poor school in the East End and Brighton being a leading high performing independent sector school, it’s been a model that demonstrates how schools can benefit their pupils and learn from each other, no matter what sector you are in; it has kicked down imaginary barriers, perceived or otherwise, which in the past has done so much to block people’s aspiration and vision, a mutual professional respect and trust have been compelling and have been at the foundation of the success that our partnership has had.

If you would like to know more about how the partnership works, please don’t hesitate to email me. Thank you very much for listening to me.

About the author

Schools Together celebrates and encourages partnership projects between independent schools, state schools and local communities.