With its new Chelsea FC Foundation partnership, St Dunstan’s College is raising the game when it comes to sport, academic and life opportunities. Head Nick Hewlett explains where this fits into the school’s wider goals

Q: Your partnership with Chelsea FC Foundation is ground-breaking in many ways – how did it come about?

A: At St Dunstan’s College, we have created an environment that empowers every pupil to embrace their individuality and celebrate the culturally and economically diverse community of south-east London. Some 18 months ago, we made the pivotal decision to transform our sporting programme, shifting the primary focus from rugby to football to better align with the needs of our community. It was this shift that has led to the partnership with Chelsea Football Club, reinforcing our shared belief in the sporting potential of young people across Lewisham.

This partnership has not only provided our students with top-quality coaching in a high-performing environment but has also transformed sporting provision across the whole borough of Lewisham. Working closely with Chelsea and community groups, we are enhancing the quality of competition and sporting experiences across various disciplines, culminating in the opportunity for groups to compete at prestigious venues such as Stamford Bridge and the Cobham training centre.

We hope these inspirational opportunities will light the spark for many of our future sporting stars. Our commitment to widening access to sports has extended beyond children, with the inclusion of ‘women only’ evenings and free-to-use organised sports as part of our weekly out-of-hours provision. The Jubilee Ground, which sits across the South Circular from the main College site is an outstanding sporting facility that embodies our commitment. 

Focus on St Dunstan's College / Raising the game
St Dunstan’s College’s location – close to the heart of Catford – is a school strength and has been instrumental in the Chelsea FC Foundation partnership and enhanced community opportunities

Q: How does the partnership feed into St Dunstan’s vision and values including those around gender-neutral sport?

A: The sporting programme reflects our commitment to co-education. Our student-led sporting strategy groups made it clear that access to specific sports could no longer be dictated by gender or squeezed around the curriculum. Our students wanted us to take the extra step – equal access in curriculum time. This equal access approach, initially pioneered by our students, has seen girls being supported to go on to compete for some of the top footballing academies in London, and boys gaining representative honours for England Netball.    

While our partnership with Chelsea FC and the transition to gender-neutral sport have been high-profile developments, our day-to-day provisions continue to provide inspirational early experiences of sport and physical activity. With over 30 different sporting experiences each week, our students engage in a diverse array of activities, both during working hours and via our recently introduced holiday-time experiences for all abilities. 

Fundamentally, the success of our programme is measured by the number of young people we inspire to continue in sports after they leave us. Each sporting experience supports character development in its broadest sense, as students learn about themselves and the culture they perform within – shaping them into well-rounded individuals. 

Focus on St Dunstan's College / Raising the game
It was students who drove the initiative for equal-access sport and the school also decided to make football a main school sport to better reflect young people’s preferences

Q: St Dunstan’s was founded in 1888 on a principle of ‘challenging convention’. How is this played out today?

A: Abutting the South Circular here in Catford, we could be seen as having the chips stacked against us, but we see it very differently. We have been able to capitalise on the extraordinary diversity of our setting by connecting it to St Dunstan’s founding principles of championing individuality (our motto is: ‘Albam Exorna’ – adorn the blank shield as you see fit).

This includes offering a genuinely innovative curriculum. Our St Dunstan’s Diapason puts equality, diversity and inclusion strategy into the hands of the students and staff. They work in partnership across five different pillars, with our community international evening celebrating the diversity of our area. Our Stuart curriculum addresses head-on the challenges posed by issues such as toxic masculinity, pornography, adolescent addiction, ‘fake news’, echo-chambers and political activism. One hour a week of curriculum time, taught by trained subject specialists as permanent members of staff, is a big commitment, but we really believe that students deserve this time and teacher quality to have robust conversations and learning outcomes.

Our Usherwood curriculum dedicates a further hour a week to teaching positive mental health, offering practical mindfulness taster lessons and yoga practice, as well as developing understanding of neurodiversity. Our Forder curriculum embeds the co-curricular programme into the timetable of the school day. We don’t shoehorn in an activity programme as an afterthought, it is a part of this core and structured to ensure the wholesome development of each individual student. 

Focus on St Dunstan's College / Raising the game
Widening access is a cornerstone of St Dunstan’s approach, says Nick Hewlett. The school has raised over £1.5 million since 2021 to enable talented locals to come to the school

Q: Diversity is a cornerstone of the St Dunstan’s academic approach – how is this being encouraged today?

A: It is perhaps our Catford Community that presents the biggest opportunity. Not only have we been able to dramatically increase our accessibility to the school – we have raised over £1.5 million since 2021 to help more talented local youngsters come to the school – but we have been able to ensure that our school is genuinely connected with its local community.

Our St Dunstan’s Festival has this year been extended to include the ‘Catford Weekender’ – a weekend of activities where the Catford community are welcomed onto our site, enjoying an open-air cinema, circus workshop, soul singing workshop and massed choirs from dozens of junior schools across Lewisham.

The Lewisham Young Leaders Academy continues to thrive, supporting local black children from disadvantaged backgrounds with the life skills needed to thrive. The partnership with Chelsea Football Club is a part of that, transforming our ability to work with the local community through first-rate coaching opportunities.    

What can our diverse, inclusive curriculum and community approaches create? The answer is an amazing culture, where young people can be who they are, celebrate the benefits of difference, be ambitious and high achieving, but not at any cost. These are, ultimately, the grounded, rounded, emotionally intelligent citizens that tomorrow’s world needs in order to thrive. 

C O V E R Absolutely Education Summer Cover
St Dunstan’s College is the cover feature for Absolutely Education Summer 2024 issue

St Dunstan’s College stdunstans.org.uk

Further reading: Outdoor adventure at Malvern College