Girls' day school trust: Rise to the charity challenge

From summer courses to links with China, GDST schools have proved their worth

This month Birkenhead High School, a high-achieving independent girl's school in the Wirral, surprised many with the announcement that it was to join the state sector as an academy. Why is a successful, popular school, crossing the floor? The answer is simple: public benefit.

Since the Charities Act came into force last year, schools are having to prove their public benefit or face extinction. Some heads see it as an irksome distraction, and a sudden rash of new projects can look cynical.

Among the cynics and doubters are many sincere believers. The Girls' Day School Trust (GDST), a charity that runs 29 independent schools in the UK, reckons public benefit benefits students, too. Birkenhead is the second GDST school to join the academies programme. The Belvedere School in Liverpool was the first independent school to turn into an academy, admitting its first fully state-funded cohort last month.

"GDST's roots are very much in responding to inequality," says Barbara Harrison, chief executive at the GDST. That has traditionally meant the broadest possible access. Until the late 1970s this was achieved at Birkenhead under direct grant schemes, then by assisted places.

Since the late Nineties the GDST, like other schools, has had to fund its own bursaries. Birkenhead and Belvedere chose to work with the new initiative rather than restrict access. "We couldn't fund the number of students who wanted to be there," says Harrison. "You can't achieve anything of that scale without government support."

Five independent schools have announced that they will become academies. Harrison says some independent schools have applied and been rejected. Schools looking to make the transition, says Harrison, need to be high performers in poor areas, where state provision is weak.

Broadening access does not mean opening the doors only to fellow Brits. For the past three years the GDST has run an international summer school with HSBC at Nottingham University. Next year the first GDST franchise school will open in Shanghai.

"We felt we should bring an international dimension to our schools, to develop our students as citizens and promote greater cultural understanding," says Sue Bridgett, the trust's director of communications and development.

The Shanghai school is to be linked with Oxford High School. With site and buildings paid for by local investors, this approach is less expensive, if harder work, than bursaries. The trust even expects to make money, to reinvest in schools in China and in the UK.

Partnerships are the core of public benefit. Many independent schools work with the local community, and the Charity Commission recognises this as one of the best ways schools can act in the public benefit.

This can mean sharing resources. Several GDST schools help maintained schools teach languages, while Blackheath High School offers after- school and Saturday classes.

Or it can mean getting the children to work together. Wimbledon High School is involved through London Challenge Partnerships with a local comprehensive, offering Easter revision courses, and organising master classes for the gifted, and a conference on crime, or the Olympics.

"It's not one-way traffic," says Pamela Wilkes, head at Wimbledon. "Sharing ideas with children from different backgrounds gives students a different perspective."

Some partnerships throw up more tangible benefits for students from the independent school. Since 2005, Sheffield High School has worked with local schools as part of an Aim Higher project to demystify Oxbridge entrance with meetings, visits, interview practice and advice.

"It has made a terrific difference," says Valerie Dunsford, head at Sheffield High School. Applications and success rates at local maintained schools are up. And at Sheffield High School the number of pupils offered places at Oxbridge has nearly doubled.

"They see that it's not something they're going through alone," says Dunsford. "When they see 200 or 250 students doing this, they don't feel in a minority." Independent school pupils are part of the public too.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
Under the skin: Sarah Kane in May 1998
theatreThe story behind a new season of Sarah Kane plays
Arts and Entertainment
Preening: Johnny Depp in 'Mortdecai'
filmMortdecai becomes actor's fifth consecutive box office bomb
Sport
Bradford City's reward for their memorable win over Chelsea is a trip to face either Sunderland or Fulham (Getty)
football
News
Lars Andersen took up archery in his mid thirties
video
Voices
Focus E15 Mothers led a protest to highlight the lack of affordable housing in London
voicesLondon’s housing crisis amounts to an abuse of human rights, says Grace Dent
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: On behalf of a successful academy i...

Tradewind Recruitment: Experienced Cover Supervisor

£12000 - £14400 per annum: Tradewind Recruitment: Experienced Cover Supervisor...

Old Royal Naval College: ORNC Visitor Experience Volunteer

Unpaid voluntary work: Old Royal Naval College: Join our team of friendly volu...

Recruitment Genius: Nursery Practitioner - Faringdon

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: We currently have an opportunity for you to jo...

Day In a Page

Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project