State and independent school partnership with a military connection
– Mike Milner, Principal of The Wellington Academy
The Wellington Academy was opened in 2009 and was the first sponsored academy in Wiltshire. Its sponsor, Wellington College, is one of the country’s leading independent boarding schools and the first to give its name to an academy. From the outset, boarding was seen as an essential part of the vision, leading to the construction of a brand new building to accommodate 100 students. But the connection between the two schools goes deeper than the name and the boarding element; the location in Tidworth was carefully chosen because of its military links. Wellington College itself was set up in the mid-1800s to educate the children of deceased army officers, and still retains a commitment to provide education for children whose parent was killed in an act of selfless bravery. Beyond shared ethos and structures, the two schools are very different in certain ways and the partnership is seen as a flagship project in breaking down social divides.
There are many ways in which the two schools work together; one area where there are well established links is boarding. The aim since opening boarding at The Wellington Academy has been to make this a key point of integration. For example, the girls' and boys' parts of the house share a common name with houses at the College. On a more substantial level, the boarding students benefit from shared expertise from staff and visits to the College for social events and even extra tuition in core academic subjects in preparation for exams. Within the classroom, there has been a considerable step up in the level of partnership since September 2013, with senior leaders joining from the College and additional benefits brought from the College's status as a Teaching School. This means that it is actively involved with a broad network of state schools to provide support for teacher training.
The benefits of the military connection
Leaving aside the partnership with the sponsor, The Wellington Academy fundamentally serves its immediate community. Around 40% of its intake – about 400 students – are children of service families. This means that the pastoral support around these children within the main school, as well as in boarding, is strong. The school has military representatives on its governing body and is in regular communication with the local units and its Welfare Officers. In addition, a growing number of staff come from a service background. The Academy also operates a well established Combined Cadet Force with its own purpose built facilities on-site.
Something for everyone
The Wellington Academy is non-selective and highly inclusive to serve the needs of its community. We operate a very broad curriculum catering for all ends of the academic spectrum, from potential Oxbridge applicants to students who wish to pursue a more vocational route. Our sixth form has more than 200 students with results and employment outcomes being good. We offer a wide range of enrichment activities and are fortunate to be housed in a modern
£32 million set of buildings including excellent sporting and performing arts spaces. These facilities are readily available for all students to use, with boarding students able to access them in the afternoons and evenings.
Choose boarding and start young
Boarding brings something unique to our Academy and, more importantly, to the lives of our students. However, we understand that there will be parental anxieties about younger students leaving home during term time. Our students talk passionately about how they operate as a family and unlike day students who increasingly interact with their peers by social media, it forces children together to form strong, lasting friendships based on common and intense experiences which help develop empathy and moral support for one another. For students just starting secondary school, it takes away the fear of a new setting and school becomes their home. This allows them to flourish academically and socially. For military students who board, it removes the anxiety of changing schools and the possible disruption to education, and allows for the whole family to benefit from some continuity, or even facilitates early settling in an area where a posting is going to take place.
It is clear from talking to our students that the support they receive from older members of the house is invaluable as they grow up into more independent individuals. For peer support, sharing a room when younger is a great way to develop long lasting friendships and to learn social and listening skills. As one of our students recently told me, the fact that there is no hiding place when there are disagreements means that they have to confront situations openly and positively. In fact, these disagreements are rare as students learn to operate in their new environment quickly.
In addition, boarding brings together students from a wide variety of backgrounds in a way which would not otherwise be possible in our geographical location. We are very pleased with our mix of UK residents and students who have parents all around the world. We are also passionate about providing education for a small number of students for whom the stability of boarding gives their best chance in life due to difficult personal circumstances. This down-to-earth and diverse cohort provides opportunities for powerful learning experiences for our young people and sets them up extremely well for later life.
Mike Milner became Principal of The Wellington Academy in September 2013 and is currently Executive Principal of Wellington College Academy Trust. Following education at the University of Oxford, reading Biochemistry and completing a doctorate in Genetics, he started his teaching career in central London and moved on to become Deputy Head (Academic) at Wellington College. Wellington College Academy Trust opened its second school, Wellington Primary Academy in Tidworth in September 2014.