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A partnership between a Cambridge college and the London Borough of Tower Hamlets to raise the aspirations of students in that deprived part of East London, backed by Clifford Chance, last week reached the finals of the Lord Mayor's awards for contributions by businesses to the community.
The 'Partnership for Schools' programme between Cambridge's Clare College and the London borough is supported by the global law firm plus big four accountant KPMG. The scheme works with students from year seven (the first year of secondary school) onwards to encourage them to aim high in higher education. The scheme is in the running for the finals of the Lord Mayor of London's 2005 Dragon Awards. The programme also works with high-achieving students in years 12 and 13 (aged 16-18) to encourage them to consider Cambridge and Oxford and to support them through the application process.
Michael Smyth, pro bono partner at Clifford Chance, said that following its move to Canary Wharf, the firm is "now a major employer in Tower Hamlets" and the partnership is "a central part" of the firm's "commitment to educational advancement in the area".
"I'm personally very proud of the project," says Smyth. "It's one of our signature initiatives. We've worked with Clare College in Cambridge to fund and support the scheme. The college is engaged in outreach schemes to kids in the area by organising trips to Cambridge. We in turn help to demystify the whole thing."
As part of Partnership for Schools, a series of events is run for the students, including visits to the university, study days for gifted and talented younger students, subject-specific assistance for smaller groups of older students and assistance in preparation for Oxford and Cambridge interviews. There are also events for parents and teachers, including visits to Cambridge and information sessions about the application process. "This is part of our wider strategy to attract outstanding students from every part of the country," comments Dr Polly O'Hanlon, senior tutor at Clare College. "We're delighted that the hard work of our admissions team and of our local partners in the borough has been recognised in this way."
More than 1,000 students from 13 Tower Hamlets schools and colleges have taken part in the programme since it launched in 2001. According to Smyth, the partnership is already delivering results. "For the first time this year, six kids from Tower Hamlets under the scheme went to Cambridge University, all from comprehensives," he says. "For us it ticks all the right boxes. It works for the firm because we're resident in Tower Hamlets, it works for Cambridge because it sees off government pressure about the exclusivity of Oxbridge, and it works for the local state schools because they can say that not only can they get students to university, but they can get them to elite universities. The message is: 'Nothing is too good for the kids of Tower Hamlets'."