When I moved to King’s College School Wimbledon in 2010, little did I know that I would meet an inspirational woman who would have a profound impact, not only on my life, but on that of many others. Heather McKissack (HMCK) was that woman, a woman of principle, vision and energy.
Heather’s passion was helping young people fulfil their potential, whether that was on the rugby field (inspired by her husband, Ian Ray, who played rugby union at national level) or in the chemistry lab, her natural teaching environment. King’s head master, Andrew Halls, described Heather as “the school’s equivalent of a national treasure”; she was a brilliant teacher, with a passion for raising pupils’ aspirations and breaking down barriers.
In 2003, Heather founded the Wimbledon Independent-State School Partnership with Carol Campbell, then headteacher of Coombe Girls’ School (now a member of The HMCK Charity educationalist panel). Of key importance to them both were the partnership principles of mutual benefit, schools learning from each other, raising aspirations, and the long-term sustainability of projects.
“Andrew Halls described Heather as ‘the school’s equivalent of a national treasure'”
In 2016 Heather was awarded an MBE for services to education in recognition of her partnership work, and she was proud to see the Wimbledon ISSP thrive, growing from the original two partners to nine today. Its success lies not in the money invested in activities, but in the strength of relationships between the schools’ headteachers and coordinators, and the unwavering commitment of staff and pupils.
The first twenty years of my teaching career were spent in state-maintained comprehensive schools, and I knew only too well the pressures on state school colleagues. I found The Wimbledon Partnership, and Heather’s dedication to it, transformational. It inspired me to look into cross-sector working more deeply, and in 2017 I moved from King’s College School to King’s College, London, to pursue a PhD in ISSP enactment. Her untimely death in summer 2018, means Heather won’t see me graduate, but through my work with The HMCK Charity I am able to continue the work Heather started, by helping more schools set up cross-sector partnerships.
One thing that is important to note is that joint working need not cost a fortune. In his recent article, Tom Arbuthnott referred to some partnership activities developed during lockdown, such as pupil mentoring, that do not require a lot of money. Our grants fund major projects up to a maximum of £5,000, so what sort of projects might that support?
Alleyn’s School (where I taught before moving to King’s) offers a Primary School Teaching project to sixth formers as part of their enrichment programme. The sixth form students deliver weekly specialist sessions for pupils at nearby state primary schools, at relatively low cost to the school. At King’s there is an Inspiring Children Through Science project for year 8 gifted and talented pupils from partner state schools. Held in the laboratories that Heather taught in, led by sixth formers, this is an activity she would have loved. In both cases, pupils from both schools benefit from these activities.
“A small grant could help pay for travel between schools and refreshments for staff and students.”
Our minor grants are for projects of £500 or less. At King’s, one of the opportunities valued by partner state schools is attending sixth form academic lectures. King’s would run these for their sixth formers anyway, so inviting local state students adds very little further expense. Another activity that independent schools offer their students that can be cost-effectively shared with partner school pupils is UCAS preparation and mock interviews. A small grant could help pay for travel between schools and refreshments for staff and students. One of Heather’s proudest moments was seeing one of her Coombe girls admitted to Cambridge after support from King’s, so this sort of activity was close to her heart.
As I have mentioned above, we at The HMCK Charity can help fund cross-sector projects. Applications are open now for both our Major (up to £5,000) and Minor (up to £500) grants. Follow this link to learn more. Our help is not just financial, our panel of experienced teachers from both sectors can also offer you advice. This may be helping you to get started, or helping you draw up aims and objectives for your project. Each grant that we make comes with a nominated mentor, available to support you throughout your project. We are a small charity and will not be able to award an unlimited number of grants, but please do find out more about how we can help.
“We can’t fund every application, but we are determined to reach as many schools, pupils and members of staff as we can.”
Partnerships between state-maintained and independent schools matter. They matter for every pupil and member of staff involved, irrespective of sector. Partnerships make a difference. If we at The HMCK Charity can help you to get started, or to continue with a project that has run out of funding, please get in touch. We can’t fund every application we receive, but we are determined to reach as many schools, pupils and members of staff as we can. It is what Heather would have wanted.
For more information on how to apply to a HMCK grant for school partnerships, click here.
Margaret Hunnaball is the former deputy head of King's College School and a trustee of the HMCK Charity. She is studying for a Phd at King's College London, investigating independent state school partnerships.