Brentwood and Westcliffe High School for Boys Partnership
Westcliff High School for Boys was one of the first schools to sign up to the Cadet Expansion Programme. The state grammar school’s headmaster, Michael Skelly – then deputy head – had been impressed by the CCF at his previous school and was quick to grasp the opportunity to establish one at his new school in Essex.
Captain Jonathan Bleakley, Westcliff’s Contingent Commander, explains how the partnership came to be.
“We were invited to a meeting in London with the Minister at the time when they announced the CEP. In the Q&A session afterwards I said I was a trained CCF officer and that we had an incoming head with CCF experience – so when could we start?”
Less than six months later, at the start of the 2012-13 school year, Westcliff became the first CEP school. It did not, however, do it on its own. Instead, it started life as a detachment of Brentwood School’s CCF – one of the oldest in the country.
“A partnership was the only option,” says Jonathan, who was a cadet at Campbell College and started volunteering whilst he was at university. “It was that or become an ACF. But the approach worked well.” He had his commission transferred from his old school to Brentwood, which had a notional cadet strength of 412 and took on the day-to-day administration.
“Adding our 25 to their hundreds did not make a big difference to the amount of administration they had to do, but it allowed us to set up,” says Jonathan.
The distance between the two schools meant that Westcliff’s cadets spent relatively little time with their Brentwood counterparts. “We are about 45 minutes away in traffic so we did not parade with them. We functioned as our own satellite unit, but they sorted out things like stores, booking things, and organising field days – which we joined them on.”
This meant that Jonathan, who is also a chemistry teacher and Westcliff’s middle school progress leader, was able to focus on recruiting staff and building momentum at his school rather than getting bogged down in paperwork. This was helpful for him personally, as his previous experience was in running the training side of things rather than administration, it was absolutely critical for the successful establishment of the contingent as a whole, he says.
“The headmaster and I did not want the CCF to be a special interest group…we wanted to grow it as quickly as tenable and to embed it in the culture of the school. The only way to do that was to have it become a real presence very quickly.”
The original plan was for a three-year partnership starting with 25 cadets in the first year, rising to 50 then 75 as Westcliff was able to find the right number of trained staff. As it turned out, however, Westcliff struck out on its own in January 2015, with a formal inauguration event where Colonel Gary Wilkinson, the Commander of Colchester Garrison, inspected the contingent and presented it with its CCF colours.
The turning point was the school appointing its own SSI, who has an hour a day and a day per week assigned to CCF work.
While the formal partnership is over, the relationship continues. “At the moment most of the help is coming from them, as they have the resources,” says Jonathan. “Brentwood’s two SSIs came and helped us on a range day as safety staff…and we have to borrow their weapons for the next field day, as we have none of our own.
“But we are always willing to help them, too. For instance, I have helped them on weapons training.”
Westcliff is also looking at what it can do to help the next generation of new CCFs. “I think we could take on a partner school ourselves, relatively soon,” says Jonathan.