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Opinion11th July 2022

Ark’s latest Affiliate Venture, Royal National Children’s Springboard Foundation, shares their journey

Ali Henderson, CEO of  Royal National Children’s SpringBoard Foundation (RNCSF), talks about their work to open access to the independent and boarding sector for young people facing risks at home or in areas of disadvantage. Their work targets the array of fully-funded bursary places and partnership activities for those who most need access to the opportunities. With their work closely aligned with Ark’s ethos, our Ventures team have supported their next growth stage, which will see them becoming an Affiliate Venture later in the year.

Ali Henderson

RNCSF’s work

We work across the UK’s independent and boarding schools sector to open access to their school places for young people facing challenging home circumstances. We are an organisation that evolved from The SpringBoard Bursary Foundation, established in 2012 to build a collective effort across the independent schools sector to target bursary places. In our first ten years, we initially focused on the boarding sector – to help provide young people facing risks at home with the chance to study away from home and benefit from the pastoral care and holistic education characterised by those 24/7 environments.

In 2017, we merged with the Royal National Children’s Foundation, a charity supporting vulnerable young people to access boarding schools as part of their care arrangements for many years. We have now extended our work to include working with independent day schools to target their provision.

In the last decade, we have supported more than 1,000 young people from across the UK who are facing challenging home circumstances – whether it’s because of social care involvement or a lack of available good or outstanding state schools commutable from their home, risks of knife/drug crime, or low aspirations following from generational unemployment. We have supported those young people to access a school place at one of our 140 participating boarding and independent schools.

Each of these schools now routinely sets aside fully-funded places for ‘SpringBoarders’ as part of their commitment to target their transformational bursary award schemes. Many are state boarding schools, a sector that is little heard of but has a fantastic provision staffed by dedicated boarding house parents who are experienced working with young people separated from their birth parents.

Widening access across the educational system for those who most need it

To ensure careful targeting and support, RNCSF has formed partnerships across the UK – with local authorities, state-funded 11-16yrs schools in areas with poor 16+ provision, and community/mentoring organisations. Central to RNCSF’s mission is to bring together the best independent and boarding schools to target their full fee assistance places for those who most need access to those opportunities.

Where there are limited opportunities, we must ensure the independent sector plays its part in supporting social mobility and opportunities for those who most need access. Our focus has been working with local authority professionals, schools, and charities operating at the community level who best know the children facing the greatest risks and who would thrive in a boarding or independent school. We know that the opportunity doesn’t suit all children by any means. However, for some, the access to the longer school day, the broader curriculum that can be available and the smaller class sizes and tailored tutor time can make all the difference.

We work around 18 months to two years in advance of school placement to carefully work with young people to consider applying, to prepare to succeed in the application, to know what to expect and to put in place the scaffolding to allow them to support each other and their families to navigate their (often very different) two worlds of home and school life. This infrastructure of large numbers of participating schools and partnerships ensures we can match the right school for the right children, whatever their educational profile and interests.

Focus on care experienced children

The Department for Education (DfE) has commissioned RNCSF to explore what it would take to ensure thousands of young people with significant social care experience secure priority access to heavily subsidised independent and boarding school places.

We have proven through our DfE-supported ‘Broadening Educational Pathways for Looked-After & Vulnerable Children’ programme that there is an appetite amongst both schools and local authorities for thousands more children to access the potentially life-transforming opportunities offered by an independent or boarding school place. All the schools that have participated in the scheme so far have committed to significant fee remission so that thousands of places could be unlocked if the state per-pupil funding could be allocated to cover some of the marginal costs of these places. If care-experienced children have priority access to their local state school, we believe they should be prioritised for whatever is the right educational pathway for them – independent or state, boarding or day.

We are particularly passionate about the role that boarding at school can play in lifting the life chances of children who are looked-after or have significant social care experience.

This passion and understanding of the benefits of boarding lies at the heart of our collaboration with Ark as an Affiliate Venture. We look forward to discussions with Ark Schools about what a reimagining of state boarding provision might entail so that thousands more vulnerable young people can access a boarding place that is in their best interests.