A Tribute to Heather McKissack MBE

In January, Heather McKissack, former senior mistress at King’s College School, Wimbledon, was awarded an MBE for services to education in recognition of her work to establish the Wimbledon Independent-State Schools Partnership, which is still flourishing today.

Among the many arrangements Heather initiated that continue to thrive are teacher-training arrangements and middle-management courses with our partner schools, the course of weekly reinforcement classes in the spring term which enhance the GCSE results of pupils at the schools in the Wimbledon ISSP, and our science project for gifted and talented Year 8s.

Heather was also the first member of the King’s staff to become a governor at one of the secondary schools in the partnership. As governor of Coombe Girls’ School, now ranked ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted, Heather worked with the headteacher to achieve its federation with a failing boys’ school which, following its reincarnation as Coombe Boys’, is now classified as ‘good’ and boasts a prize-winning drama department. Heather supported the bid of both schools to be awarded academy status, and when Coombe Girls’ recently became a teaching school, King’s was invited to join the Teaching Alliance it chairs as the only independent school in the group.

Heather was in charge of partnerships when our series of lectures and visits for partner school pupils who will be first-generation graduates known as the aspirations project was launched. This year pupils in each of the three years of the project have enjoyed lessons and lectures delivered by our staff and eminent speakers, visits to the Globe and National theatres, King’s College London, Sussex University and the Palace of Westminster, as well as debating and creative writing with our pupils and a session devoted to preparing for university.

It was Heather who approached our Classics department about the introduction of Latin for pupils at Coombe Girls’ as a weekly Friday afternoon project, which eventually led to the decision of some generous parents to fund the teaching of Latin GCSE at the school. Among the sixth-formers at Coombe and Ricards Lodge High School whose Oxbridge and medical applications we supported this year is a Coombe girl who, having started Latin at King’s on Friday afternoons in Year 7, has received an offer to read Classical Civilisation at Oxford.

Another idea of Heather’s was our Junior Aspirations project, which prepares more able Year 5s for tests to selective senior schools. This is also still going strong and complements the school’s decision to admit Year 7 pupils from September.   

The work of the Wimbledon ISSP is reinforced by an extensive programme of weekly mentoring and joint projects involving around 30 members of staff and over 350 pupil volunteers in years 10-13. These range from work on subjects such as Maths, Science, Latin, Chinese, Spanish and English as an Additional Language with pupils at all seven of our partner secondary schools and more than twenty special and primary schools, to gardening and work with adults in libraries and at a weekly tea for the elderly. Recently our creative writing project with sixth-form pupils from Ursuline High School and King’s was enhanced by an art project which made use of a traditional printing press donated by parents, and the result is a beautifully illustrated anthology of verse.

Our second partnership production, directed by director-in-residence David Antrobus, was performed in the school theatre at the end of the spring term. The experience of bringing together pupils at a primary school, two special schools and five secondary schools including King’s to devise, rehearse and perform a version of Jean Giono’s The Man Who Planted Trees provided further evidence of the benefits of cross-sector partnerships. I am sure that none of the many pupils involved will forget the experience of collaboration and respect for difference it gave them.

This year the ninth Open Doors project, a week of arts and games for three primary schools run by members of our sixth form and pupils at Ricards Lodge and Coombe Boys’ School, will take place from the 11th to 15th of July. The project is yet another example of the enjoyment our pupils derive from engaging with the local community.

A large number of guests, including Stephen Hammond, MP for Wimbledon, joined us at a reception last week to mark Heather’s visit to the palace to receive her MBE. The occasion was an opportunity not just to congratulate Heather on her achievement but to reflect on the basic principles of partnerships work that she established: mutual benefit, schools learning from each other, the long-term sustainability of projects. These principles continue to inform our programme and are the reason why it has continued to flourish and develop over the years. The recent appointment of Debbie Walls, Head of the Coombe Academy Trust, to the King’s governing body, is further evidence of the long-lasting impact of Heather’s pioneering work in the field of cross-sector partnerships. 

About the author

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