THE two of us – friends, and once sparring partners in the House of Commons – have come together to do something very unusual in education in our country.
Each of us, with our political careers behind us, is associated with a particular organisation renowned in its field for educational excellence.
One of us helps to govern Star Academies. With its roots in Blackburn, Star Academies has founded and improved dozens of the highest performing state schools in the country.
It works in many parts of England, including some of the most deprived boroughs in the land, and its pupils demonstrate day in day out what we all know to be true in our hearts: talent and capacity for high achievement can be found in every neighbourhood, no matter the circumstances of your wealth or background.
The other is Provost (that is, Chair of Governors) of Eton College, one of the oldest and most famous independent schools in Britain, which prides itself on the breadth and depth of its educational excellence.
Our two organisations are now coming together to bridge one part of the deep chasm of educational inequality on which the Covid-19 crisis has thrown such a sharp light.
Why shouldn’t every child with the ability to benefit from the type of education Eton offers not have the chance to experience it?
Why shouldn’t every region have, free of charge, sixth form academic teaching of the quality which Star and Eton can offer?
Why shouldn’t every child who could benefit have a fair shot at entry to the very best universities here and abroad?
So this is what we plan to do.
Working together, Eton and Star plan to set up and jointly run three state sixth form colleges in the North of England and in the Midlands that will actively recruit students from the poorest homes and the most deprived communities, and which will set them on the path to the very best universities.
We plan to open the first college in time for September 2024 with two more to follow.
We know we are not alone in seeing the need.
We are proud to be joining those already doing similar important work with spectacular results in east London and elsewhere.
We also know there are plenty of other types of educational need, which this initiative cannot begin to meet.
But we do believe that the Eton–Star alliance can offer something of distinctive value to a specific group of bright young people who will thrive if given the chance: access to rigorous and academic sixth form provision designed specifically to stretch and challenge our sharpest young minds.
Access to excellent teaching. Access to a curriculum going much wider than just the dictates of exams. Access, in short, to opportunities not easily available in many of the communities we aim to serve.
Nor will this be a one-way transfer of benefits – we intend the value of the venture to be greater than the sum of its parts.
Star and Eton both believe passionately in the power of partnership, and that by working with and learning from each other, we can enrich the educational experience and opportunity of students and also staff in our respective schools.
We come from different political traditions, and different educational experiences in our own lives.
But we are united in our determination to work together for the good of young people in our country.
Eton and Star, Star and Eton: the names have a ring about them. We hope that together we may do something to help build a better Britain.
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