How to harness the power of school partnerships

A new report outlines the benefits of schools working in partnership, from tackling recruitment to boosting the university admissions process, and why more schools should look to peers for support
24th January 2023, 3:40pm


How to harness the power of school partnerships
How to harness the power of school partnerships

Schools trying to recruit a subject specialist teacher will know all too well the daunting challenge of trying to do so amid a national shortage.

Often that challenge is exacerbated by budgetary limitations as well as stiff competition from other schools in the region also trying to fill the same type of vacancy.

But there is an alternative to a school grappling with the problem on its own.

Strongest together 

A group of schools in the Newcastle area harnessed the power of their partnership to recruit for specialist subjects.

The partnership, between local primary, junior and senior state schools and Royal Grammar School Newcastle (RGS), secured funding from a range of sources including local and national foundations, charities and businesses to recruit specialist partnership teachers, starting with maths and physics.

The teachers, recruited through RGS to benefit all schools in the partnership, had 60 to 80 per cent of their capacity allocated for partner schools and were able to offer daytime classes as well as after-school clubs, webinars and professional development.

Based on the success of the first two years, the partnership then recruited a robotics teacher for the current academic year.

The impact of partners 

The partnership was able to secure funding that individual schools could not have secured alone, and this innovative form of recruitment meant schools across the partnership had access to specialised teaching they would not have otherwise been able to afford and might have had difficulties recruiting for on their own.

This addressed issues with recruiting specialist teachers and benefitted pupils in schools across the region through an expanded curriculum and increased GCSE choices.

This is just one of many examples of impactful cross-sector partnership work we explore in School Partnerships for Impact, our first report since our founding in 2021.

The report demonstrates how partnering together to tackle regional challenges achieves greater opportunities for all pupils than schools could do on their own.

Another example looks at post-16 provision. Feltham College, based at Reach Academy Feltham, has its foundations in a six-year partnership between Reach Academy Feltham and local independent schools Hampton School and Lady Eleanor Holles School.

The independent schools directly support A-level provision in Feltham College, and the college is also supported by vocational partners, including Kingston University London and St Peter’s Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, to enhance the experience of students through their careers expertise, mentoring and work experience placements.

This partnership work supports the college’s aim to be a centre of academic and vocational excellence at the heart of the town, playing a key role in rejuvenating a historically deprived area that has experienced significant pandemic-related job losses.

The partnership hopes its innovative approach could provide a helpful blueprint for other areas of the UK seeking to boost post-16 provision.

Pushing boundaries 

In the report, we also show how partnerships can move beyond the curriculum and into other important areas, such as business and entrepreneurial skills.

For example, York Independent State School Partnership (ISSP) brings together 10 state secondary schools and three independent schools on a number of initiatives. Their latest project, in conjunction with the University of York and the Company of the Merchant Adventurers of the City of York, is an innovative Business and Enterprise project designed for 40 Year 10 pupils from across the city.

Pupils will build a business from scratch by doing everything, from identifying a need to designing a product and marketing it, which will culminate in a presentation to York business leaders at the Merchant Adventurers’ Hall later this academic year.

This project gives pupils an exciting opportunity to think laterally like entrepreneurs and be mentored in real-life settings.

So how can more schools benefit from such partnerships?

How to make it work

Our report marks our first step towards building a common framework for how schools can become involved in a partnership, or make an existing one even more powerful, and pieces together established best practice to develop a clear model to demystify how partnerships work.

It lays the groundwork for enabling and promoting meaningful partnerships between different schools across the state and independent sectors.

Cross-sector school partnerships can range from informal one-to-one relationships to multi-organisation collaborations between schools and other stakeholders.

Our report broadly identifies four types of partnerships:

  • Type 1: Connection - A school shares its available resources and facilities for the benefit of its partner.
  • Type 2: Collaboration - Two or three schools collectively address a shared need or opportunity by combining resources.
  • Type 3: Alliance - A collaborative partnership, broader in ambition and scope. Combining diverse resources in an ongoing, multi-school partnership.
  • Type 4: Integration - Longer term, formal partnerships (some involving non-school stakeholders) to improve the potential for all children to thrive at school and beyond.

The report also demonstrates the value and impact that can be created through effective partnering to hopefully convince more leaders of their value and why time and resources are justified in time spent on forming and maintaining partnerships.

Some of the common benefits highlighted in the report include: community impact; innovation; shared learning; and synergy and economies of scale.

Ultimately, partnerships come in many shapes and sizes. But the most important factor is they are mutually productive for all schools involved and make a materially positive difference to the educational, social and employment outcomes and opportunities of the pupils educated across them.

Dr Margaret Hunnaball FCCT is researcher in residence at the School Partnerships Alliance

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