Mr Arbuthnott is the Deputy Head (Partnerships) and is responsible for consolidating the relationship between Eton and the London Academy of Excellence (LAE). LAE is a selective free school sixth form college co-founded by Eton and six other independent schools. Press Officer Gabriel Daudy spoke to Mr Arbuthnott about the annual Eton-LAE exchange, the benefits of this partnership and Eton’s plans for a sustainable future.

What was the idea behind the partnership between Eton and LAE?

We are one of six independent schools that helped to establish LAE in an area of London where students were struggling to access higher education, including Oxbridge. Last year 33 secured offers from LAE alone.  It is amazing project and one that is actively benefitting the lives of students involved. It is also part of Eton’s sustainability goals, which aim to create new free schools in UK, especially in the Midlands and the North.

What is the idea behind the annual exchange?

Etonians meeting LAE pupils can change their perception of the world.  Conversations with people from different backgrounds are fantastic, and many Eton students remarked on how much they enjoyed discussions on women’s rights and equal opportunities in particular.

The Eton-LAE exchange is also part of encouraging Eton and LAE students to get to know each other and make friends.

Do you think that these partnerships should be replicated across the country?

In forming school partnerships and founding free schools we are ahead of most other schools and leading the way. Highgate has a similar programme and the benefits are clear. They include enriching school life and students’ lives immensely and also giving people from less privileged backgrounds great opportunities.

We want to found additional schools using the LAE model as it works so well.

How did social distancing and online interaction impact the exchange?

It was clear that people engage differently online. Due to Covid we sadly couldn’t host our annual exchange in person, so instead we used Future Foundations, an independent organisation which delivers social action and leadership training programmes for young people and teachers. It was a great interaction and I think the students enjoyed it as well.

Some reported back that the exchange had given them ‘a perspective on issues I hadn’t considered’, proving ‘the importance of having confidence in yourself’ and the ‘importance of diversity’.

What other plans does Eton have to achieve its sustainability targets?

We recently received government funding for founding the LAE-Eton Leadership Institute. We had our pilot in the spring and the government liked the idea so much they want to encourage take-up across the country.