Why keeping the door open to outreach is important for cross-sector collaboration

Susie Edebali, GDST Trust Consultant for Outreach and Partnerships questions why there is a trend in outreach being pitched against partnerships, arguing that both have value and can be part of the same ecosystem for support and collaborative work across sectors.

As Trust Consultant for Partnerships at the Girls’ Day School Trust (GDST), I always champion the work my colleagues are doing across outreach and partnerships. But, I have found that outreach is increasingly being described as ‘fluffy’ with a preference for long-term impactful cross-sector partnerships.

What do we mean by ‘Outreach’ and ‘Partnerships’ at schools?

In the simplest terms, partnerships tend to be with organisations that can enhance the education and opportunities a school provides. This can be from philanthropic relationships that address social mobility, to careers guidance, insight days, workshops and more. Outreach, on the other hand, is collaborative work that takes place between independent schools and local state schools and universities to help raise aspirations and foster community cohesion, particularly in disadvantaged areas.

Bringing together the state and independent school sectors

My professional experience of working in outreach and partnerships at Nottingham Girls’ High School for the last decade has taught me that, irrespective of the excellent foundations built through outreach, some state schools can still be reluctant to commit to formal partnerships for a variety of reasons. These include a fear of conflicting interests with feeder schools and/or their multi-academy trust, or the resources required for a mutually beneficial collaboration. Should activities with these schools end in favour of finding other schools willing to work in partnership? Of course not.

We need to be more confident, bold and unafraid of saying that independent schools facilitate outreach. I prefer the term “collaboration” for activities that bring together both sectors, as it infers working together without the sense of charity and without predicating formality with partnerships.

Letting Outreach and Partnerships sit side by side

I whole-heartedly believe in the power of partnerships – my school is in a formal partnership with two local primary schools. However, I am also a strong advocate for the power of outreach and believe that rather than pitching the two against one another, we should honour the eco-system of cross-sector collaboration and allow outreach and partnerships to sit side by side. The Big Issue recently revealed that 14.5million children are living in poverty, with an estimation of this figure rising to 15 million by April 2023. And the cost-of-living crisis continues to add strain and stress to us all. But in the fog of austerity and stripped back opportunities, we must not lose sight of the impact that outreach can have in widening participation to children and young people, without the expectation of mutual benefit.

Outreach brings many immeasurable and intangible benefits, including enabling social mobility through raising aspirations. There is still magic in these ‘fluffy’ engagements. It makes sense to progress towards building long-term sustainable and impactful partnerships, but in snubbing the former in favour of the latter, we do a disservice to the core values of outreach and independent schools’ charitable status.

gdst partnerships and outreach
Nottingham Girls’ High School’s Reach Out programme provides enrichment opportunities for city and county primary schools.

Outreach and Partnerships at GDST

GDST students play integral roles in how we collaborate with our local community. I was recently inspired by two girls at Putney High School, who have been working together to plan and deliver Access to Success, a two-part maths and science outreach event for local primary school children. Both students joined Putney High School Sixth Form as bursary recipients and were keen to get involved in outreach. One of the girl’s motivations to be involved in the school’s outreach work stemmed from having engaged in outreach programmes at her former school.

outreach partnerships
Putney High School’s Access To Success was set up by Sixth Formers to open up maths and science opportunities for local primary school pupils.

All schools across the GDST are doing something proactive to support their local community of schools through outreach and/or partnerships. Many of these initiatives, include the students themselves, and whilst they gain so many skills in the process, at the core is their need and want to support others.

Find out more about GDST Partnerships and Outreach

The Girls’ Futures Report

Finally, my conversations with colleagues and students across the GDST always confirm that community and giving back remains at the heart of our culture. The Girls’ Futures Report (commissioned by GDST) found girls nationally ‘painted a picture of a life where they have control of how work intersects with home and family and where they can lead in a way that prioritises compassion and community.’

As experts in educating girls, this is no surprise – girls tend to work collaboratively and are supportive of one another. Years after school age, women still show a preference for supporting community initiatives with female philanthropists choosing to invest in causes such as gender equality and sustainability to drive change – indicating that girls and women make conscious decisions about how their actions can have a positive impact on others.

The Girls' Futures Report