Those of you who have listened to Heart FM recently, browsed Facebook or Twitter, watched our latest video or flicked through Exeter Living and other publications, will know that today has been our Open Day. We have welcomed a record number of prospective families to the School today, each of them keen to find out what makes ECS such a special place and how we pack it all in. I have been enormously proud of our Year 7 and Year 8 tour guides: watching them introduce themselves to our visitors with appropriate confidence and appropriate deference – with smiles, handshakes, eye-contact and engaging questions – has reminded me just how good the Prep School model is for pupils’ personal development across the board. But today has also got me thinking about our community engagement. As a city-centre school we are blessed with huge opportunities to engage with our local community; and we take our responsibilities to contribute to it very seriously.
Our visiting speaker programme brings in guests from across the city and beyond to speak to our pupils about all sorts of topics. In recent months the children have listened to talks on the Apartheid, Homelessness (Andrew McGarry, Big Issue Seller), Exeter Foodbank, the British Democratic System (Ben Bradshaw, MP), Devon Wildlife Trust, Devon Air Ambulance, Creative Writing (author Dan Metcalfe was in this week), Life as a Buddhist Nun, and Volunteering (Guide Dogs South West). And of course being located where we are means we can tap into the impressive range of facilities and amenities offered by the city; whether that be walking to the museum to complement a history/Latin scheme of learning, nipping to Pizza Express to learn about dough-making as part of the Year 1 food topic, or arranging for the Picture House Cinema to put on a private screening of one of the Year 7 set texts.
But it’s important that we don’t seek to benefit from a community whilst at the same time choosing to exist solely on its periphery and without contributing to it (there’s a Brexit blog in me somewhere, I’m sure). We are part of that community, and my expectation is that we contribute to it so that it can benefit from us.
One of the ways in which this happens, of course, is through the service provided by our Choristers to the Cathedral, the city, and the wider community. They’re a hard-working bunch, our Choristers, and we are proud of the very significant contributions that they make to life beyond the School walls.
As a musically-alive School, we are pleased to be in partnership with the Devon Music Education Hub as part of our commitment to outreach and to broadening access to high-quality music and music-making. We offer weekly rehearsal space free of charge to the Devon County Junior Choir, and are delighted to play a significant part in the Hub’s primary outreach project, which sees our Choristers visiting Devon primary schools to help lead workshops and rehearsals in areas which might not otherwise have easy access to the musical excellence which we are afforded here. These visits and workshops culminate in outreach concerts in the cathedral which you may have spotted in our termly blue diaries.
As a timely example of community engagement, we are looking forward to welcoming the wider ECS community to our first Wellbeing Evening tonight. ‘Body, Mind and Soul’ is an event put together by the School as part of our focus on Wellbeing, and all pupils, parents, staff and friends of the School are invited to come and hear a range of experts speaking about strategies for positive physical and mental health. These are local practitioners that we’ve partnered-up with recently as part of our staff and pupil wellbeing provision, and we hope to offer a service to the broader community by extending this provision to our parents and friends this evening.
Extending our provision and offering tangible public benefit is really at the heart of our commitment to outreach and to community engagement. I am determined that we should broaden access to the educational experience on offer at ECS, and that is why we launched last year the Devon Award. The Devon Award is a fully-funded place (including tuition fees, lunch, compulsory trips) at ECS throughout Years 7 and 8 and is available to Devon state primary pupils currently in Year 6 who can offer a significant contribution to the life of the School. It’s a means-tested award and takes the form of fee remission, and we are pleased to offer two of these Devon Awards for September 2019. It fits into our range of 11+ Entry Awards and Specialist Senior Awards for pupils joining/moving into Year 7.
Broadening access to an educational experience of which we are really proud strikes me as exactly the right thing to do, and is an example of our continuing commitment to community engagement and service. I wrote last week about the importance of breadth and balance in education: it strikes me that breadth of accessibility is an integral part of this.