The power of partnership

Since late 2016 Oxford University’s Gardens, Libraries and Museums (GLAM) have been developing a partnership with the Iffley Academy, Oxford. The GLAM venues are: the Ashmolean Museum, the Bodleian Library, the Pitt Rivers Museum, the History of Science Museum, the Oxford University Museum of Natural History and the Oxford University Botanic Gardens and Arboretum. Before 2016, despite its proximal location to the GLAM venues Iffley Academy was a non-visiting school. The past five years has been a journey from having no relationship to having one of the strongest external relationships GLAM has with a community partner.

Iffley Academy is the largest special school in Oxfordshire situated about a mile away from the GLAM venues. Iffley Academy is a community special academy for children and young people up to the age of 18 with complex special educational needs and disabilities. All students have Education, Health and Care Plans with a range of needs but primarily the Academy works with students with Moderate Cognition and Learning Difficulties, Autistic Spectrum Disorder and/or Social, Emotional and Mental Health difficulties,
We work in partnership to create high quality cultural learning opportunities that meet the needs of all learners. All of the work we do is co-produced with teachers and GLAM staff working together to plan and deliver project work that focuses on the unique and valuable learning opportunities the GLAM venues can offer. Working together we deliver Arts Award qualifications from Discover through to Bronze level and the school has recently received a Platinum Artsmark Award from Arts Council England.

The partnership work happens across all the GLAM sites and at school. Students regularly visit the GLAM venues to see exhibitions, go behind the scenes and meet a range of staff who can support their learning. All the project work is person centered and we plan for the needs of all learners so everyone can participate and achieve. We work together rather than ‘doing things to or for’ each other.

The partnership has had many successes such as receiving a Highly Commended Museum and Heritage Award, featuring in the TES and also being highlighted as a best practice case study for Creativity in Education in the Durham Commission 2018.

So what have we learnt over the past 5 years and what key pieces of advice would we want to pass on to others?

At the heart of this partnership are some simple core values that ensure that everyone is able to participate in and feel valued and seen within the work that we do.

Strong relationships are key to all of the work that we do. We learn from each other and support each other. We have developed a relational practice model that runs through all of the projects and work that we do together. When people are supported by strong mutual relationships they are able to take risks and achieve more than they thought possible.

Trust is key and at the heart of all the work that we do and underpins all of the key relationships. Trust takes time to build and there is no short cut to it. Everyone in the partnership works hard to listen to each other and share thoughts and ideas. We are honest and value honesty.

Reciprocity no one owns this partnership and no one person leads. Everyone puts into the partnership as well as receiving from it. We pool our budgets, expertise and resources so that we can build a partnership in the truest sense. We also share our resources and expertise with others if needed.

Integrity – this isn’t in the moralizing sense. We mean it as in the sense of being whole and soundly structured as a result of our other core values. We are robust and can withstand problems and carry on with our work even when times are tough such as during COVID.

These core values can’t be achieved overnight. In 2016 we started with some small-scale project work to get to know each other. From there, we have explored lots of ways of working from the core projects that maintain the partnership through to careers events and work experience visits. We have developed a mutual CPD programme for GLAM and Iffley staff. Soon the school will have their own museum case where they can hold their own exhibitions of objects and artefacts on loan from GLAM and create interpretation for the wider school community. We are also developing a wellbeing programme called GROW that looks at how social prescribing methods can work in schools.

The sociologist Hilary Cottam sums up our approach well in her book Radical Help:

‘We have to get to know each other if we really want to understand realities that are not our own, and to make change. We need to find ways to truly listen and to see things differently’.

Miranda Millward – Arts Engagement Officer, Oxford University Gardens, Libraries and Museums and Tom Procter-Legg, headteacher, The Iffley Academy.

Photo of Tom Procter-Legg a white male with close shaved head and blue eyes wearing a black round necked jumper

Tom Procter-Legg, Headteacher at The Iffley Academy