The hidden value of independent schools: building stronger communities

Posted on 5th Jun 2024 in Prep Schools Guide, Charity and community work, Fundraising

Moulsford School reflects on how independent schools give back and help support their local communities.

Anyone with more than a passing interest in the independent education sector will be aware of the changes which are likely to take place over the next decade or so. Strong economic headwinds and a potential new government are combining to create an uncertain future for independent schools, and present a scenario where only the fittest will survive.

Attention-grabbing headlines in the media play to the notion of class war and resentment of the ‘elite’ who can afford to send their children to exclusive ‘private’ schools. While many commentators provide arguments both for and against the independent sector, few focus on the individual contributions that most independent schools make to their local communities. The vast majority of school leaders and teachers are in the profession – whether the state or independent sector – because they want children to thrive through education, whatever their background, and being part of a strong local community plays a crucial role in positive outcomes.

At Moulsford, an independent Prep and Pre-Prep School in South Oxfordshire, we firmly believe that we have a moral duty to make a wonderful and meaningful contribution to our local community. Building a strong school within this context, not just for our current families but for the long-term, is vital to our continued success. We know we are very fortunate to benefit from a wonderful setting, fabulous facilities and the independence to drive academic excellence forward in a way that we feel is most beneficial to our pupils, whilst still observing the national curriculum framework. At the same time, we can also see how crucial it is for us to foster community development. From establishing school partnerships to supporting local employment and charities, Moulsford, along with most other independent schools, aims to contribute significantly to the wellbeing and growth of our surrounding community.

In terms of primary school links, Moulsford is well-positioned to establish significant partnerships which benefit all involved. Through collaborations with colleagues at a number of our local primary schools, where financial constraints are a particular issue, Moulsford has been able to assist by providing transport, so that primary schools can extend out of school learning to more pupils, for example on museum trips, music events and sending teams to participate in local sports tournaments, which would otherwise not have been possible.

We share our facilities to support primary class topics, including our climbing wall, our DT workshop and our Forest School site – a local infants’ school regularly joins our Year 2 group at Forest School. Again, lack of affordable transport would deny primary school children these opportunities, so we transport the children in our Moulsford minibuses, to enable them to participate.

Collaboration in teaching is also of great mutual benefit. With our partner schools we share knowledge, provide mentoring, and share resources. For instance, Moulsford Year 3 teachers recently spent a morning at one of our primary linked schools, sharing good practice, talking with other teachers, and encouraging professional development for all involved. If we have resources that are no longer required or can be lent, such as play sets or props, we offer them to the primary schools in our network. Moulsford also hosts an annual Pre-School and Nursery Heads’ Conference, inviting representatives from all relevant settings in the area to a workshop or training session, free of charge, providing the opportunity to network and talk about issues affecting the sector. These initiatives help improve the overall quality of education in the wider community, creating a positive impact on pupils' academic and physical performance and future prospects.

Independent schools are not only centres of education but also significant employers within their communities. These institutions create a wide range of job opportunities, from teaching and administrative positions to maintenance and support staff roles. By providing employment to local residents, independent schools contribute to the economic stability of the community. At Moulsford we have 114 employees plus 14 visiting music teachers, and many are from local, intergenerational families who are completely embedded in the local community.

Our sector also engages with a wide array of local suppliers. From catering services to stationery providers, independent schools can choose to source their goods and services locally. This not only supports local businesses but also fosters a sense of community cohesion. For example, Moulsford’s in-house catering manager buys the vast majority of our fresh food from within only a few miles, from a butcher in the nearby village, and from a local greengrocer. By prioritising local suppliers, independent schools contribute to the economic growth of the community. This approach not only benefits the schools themselves but also creates a knock-on effect, as local suppliers, in turn, may reinvest in the community, thereby generating a cycle of mutual support and growth.

Many independent schools are actively involved in charitable activities and community service, and hosting fundraising events for local charities is common practice. These events not only raise funds for good causes but also create a sense of social responsibility among pupils, staff, and the wider community. For example, our pupils vote for ‘house’ charities which they choose to support, fundraising through pupil-led initiatives such as cake sales and sponsored events. Equally, an annual charity summer lunch held for parents at Moulsford in 2023 raised £43,000 to purchase an Intraoperative ultrasound probe for the Paediatric Neurology department of the John Radcliffe Children’s Hospital in Oxford. Another annual partnership is with Agoonoree Scout Camp, who use our facilities during the summer break to provide a holiday for scouts with special needs.

Moulsford also has a strong connection with our local care homes, with festive carol singing or musical performances at other times of the year to share some joy with elderly residents. We are also able to support our village community by regularly mowing the recreation ground, litter picking, printing the village newsletter and providing a venue for village social events such as our free Boogie Tots weekly sessions for toddlers, or the village Christmas Gala Dinner.

In conclusion, beyond their primary role as educational institutions, independent schools contribute in many different and often unseen ways to their local community. The hidden value of independent schools lies in their ability to create a positive ripple effect that extends far beyond the classroom, enriching the lives of many individuals and fostering a sense of shared purpose within the community. When politicians make big decisions with far-reaching, and sometimes unintended, consequences for our education system, it would be worth them also noting the effect that their decisions could have on local communities.

This article appears in the 2024 edition of John Catt's Preparatory Schools, which you can view here: