Private school partnerships “key” for top free schools

So says Ralph Lucas, editor of the Good Schools Guide, as two state schools founded by independents – Holyport College and Harris Westminster – are included in the guide’s latest edition

State schools started in the last five years by two of the UK’s leading independent schools have been included in the new edition of the Good Schools Guide.

Holyport College, established by Eton College, and Harris Westminster Sixth Form (HWSF), a co-venture between Westminster School and Harris Federation, both opened their doors to pupils in 2014. The schools have been visited by reviewers from the long-running parents’ education guide and are included in its pages for the first time.

Holyport, unlike its partner school, is academically non-selective and accepts boys and girls aged 11 to 19. It offers a limited number of boarding places, for which there is a fee. The guide reports that it teaches ‘a traditional, fairly narrow, Ebacc-centred, academic curriculum’, and calls the most recent GCSE results ‘superb’.

The teaching of Latin and single sciences, as well as a school day which finishes at 5.30pm, points to its public school origins. The school’s first set of A-level results are due in August.

The Queen opened Holyport College in 2014

Harris Westminster Sixth Form, a selective school where a third of pupils are eligible for free school meals, made headlines in January when it announced that 37 pupils had been offered places at the universities of Oxford and Cambridge.

Characterised in The Good Schools Guide review as ‘highly academic’, the school’s timetable is closely aligned to Westminster School, including Saturday morning classes; those pupils studying classics, history of art, drama and German attend lessons there. The guide describes it as ‘a genuinely stimulating and scholarly environment in which to study’, and ‘students feel fortunate to be there, staff feel privileged to teach them, a stunning combination’.

Pupils at Harris Westminster Sixth Form

Editor, Ralph Lucas, speaking ahead of the launch of the 22nd edition of the guide, believes the run of successful partnerships between the state and private sector is excellent news for our education system. “It’s a pleasure to see relatively new state schools providing a high standard of education so early on – it is challenging to get a new school right; having a strong and supportive partner makes a big difference. Much comes from a determination by some independent schools to find opportunities in the state sector and to involve time, facilities and staff to make sure they get it right. Our previous edition featured London Academy of Excellence, because its relationship with Brighton College and other independents blazed a trail for such free school projects – we can see that this winning combination was not a one off.

“The key, to my mind, is that the state school, and in particular its head, should take the lead. Independent schools have a great deal to offer – high expectations, excellent teaching, facilities and budgets – but their role is putting their shoulder to the wheel and working up a sweat, not to be in the driving seat.”