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CEO Update December 2020

01/12/20

In her latest blog our CEO, Ali Henderson, takes stock of the role of bursaries in redressing the educational inequalities laid bare by COVID19.

COVID19 deepened inequalities in every area of life – but the disparity in education has been forced into the harshest glare. In spite of the huge challenges ahead, I remain optimistic at the role that the boarding and independent school sector can play as an engine for social mobility.

Deprived of classroom teachers and dependant on the resources of home – from digital access to having room for a quiet workspace, not to mention the varying ability of parents and guardians to become surrogate teachers – it is estimated that the gap in England between some pupils and their wealthier peers widened by 46% in the last year alone. Our role - to widen access to the opportunities provided through a bursary place at a great school to children from some of the most deprived areas and vulnerable families - has never felt so vital.

The pandemic required us to adapt in ways I could not foresee when I was first appointed as CEO, but it has not changed our fundamental focus. There are now more than 100 schools supporting SpringBoarders on 110% transformational bursaries; and more schools seeking to join our network than ever before. Those schools’ commitment to fund a large proportion, if not all, of the cost of Royal SpringBoard bursary placements that sits at the very heart of our impact, has remained unerring.  

The emotional commitment of our schools to lifting the life chances of the most disadvantaged and vulnerable was never more evident than in the way they reacted when the immediate lockdown measures were announced in March. Many remained open throughout that period for their most vulnerable pupils, or put in place additional online psychological support for those who most needed it. They worked with us to ensure that SpringBoarders were able to access food vouchers equivalent to those that they would have been given had they remained in the Free School Meals scheme in their previous state schools; provided the technology SpringBoarders needed to continue to work hard and focus; and supported our additional online tuition programme for those that were due to start their bursary placements in September.

As I look ahead to next year, I feel more strongly than ever that our mission of social mobility is critical in a post-coronavirus world. We know that the children and young people who access our bursaries are thriving and flourishing, not just in their placements but in their lives after school. They are role models in their schools, helping to ensure that those schools reflect the vibrancy of modern Britain. They are role models in their communities, encouraging other children and young people from where they are from to hope and aspire to succeed in many different ways. And increasingly they are role models in their chosen industries – with alumni now securing great first graduate jobs across medicine, accountancy, finance, journalism, the arts and many more.  We cannot wait to continue to support these inspirational young people as they chart their futures.

There’s no doubt that the road to redressing the inequities in the availability of good quality education that COVID19 has laid bare is a long one. But there are reasons to feel optimistic about the role that bursaries can play in transforming some individual lives and building a movement of inspirational role models. The pastoral care, round-the-clock communities raising aspirations and high-quality teaching and learning available at our great schools can help to change lives.

In the last 9 months (to the day!) since I was appointed as CEO, I have been so humbled and proud of the way in which all Royal SpringBoard’s pupils, our schools, our donors, our community partners, and our team, have responded to the challenges of an extraordinary year, and continue to confound expectations and assumptions. I hope that we can make 2021 a year in which we ensure this chance to thrive is made available to many more children and young people, regardless of their family circumstances.

Ali Henderson
Chief Executive

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