Want to bring schools closer? Keep talking.

19th June 2015 at 01:00
Good relationships rely on honesty and understanding - and the same goes for collaborations between private and state colleagues

Many educational leaders will have engaged in cross-sector collaboration with schools in their local area - and in some instances much further afield, including overseas. We know that pupils and staff benefit from the opportunity to work with different types of school, and we recognise that the process can raise aspiration and have a positive impact on social mobility. Nevertheless, school leaders often ask how to make it happen and how such relationships can be sustained and embedded into school life.

In February, members of the IndependentState School Partnerships forum met with England's education secretary Nicky Morgan and schools minister Lord Nash to discuss ways of establishing partnerships and ensuring that they are effective. Here are the key points that emerged.

1 Ensure mutual benefits

The first word that arose was reciprocity. Like any relationship it needs to be built on mutual respect and mutual benefit, otherwise resentment will build and the partnership will break down.

2 Get leaders onside

Partnerships are often created by like-minded people who meet at professional events and realise that they share a vision. Not all these people are headteachers - some relationships are initiated by governors and teaching staff - but it's clear that school leaders have to buy into the concept. If they don't, projects will fail because they are given low priority in terms of resources, both human and financial.

3 Agree on the nitty-gritty

Time allocation is critical to shaping a vision of how a partnership will evolve. A frank discussion regarding expenditure, staffing, transport, venues, lines of accountability and the criteria for evaluation are crucial to collaborative success. If you leave these things to chance, misunderstandings, or even resentment, will surface and the trust will be lost. Once that occurs it is unlikely that any future initiatives will be shared. Therefore a partnership needs to be structured, rigorous and purposeful. It is not a question of the parties feeling good about what they are doing. Rather, they have to identify a specific need at the outset and agree on what is required for a project to be successful, placing children's needs at its core.

4 Share responsibility

When partnerships fail, it is often because the highly motivated, resourceful leaders who are driving them leave the school. If the early stages of a partnership have been dominated by a few individuals, other people are often daunted by the presumed workload and feel it is too much of a challenge to take on. If partnerships are focused on the exchange of best practice and what it will take for them to be successful, however, and embedded into the school's strategic development plan, there will be wider buy-in and involvement. As a result, the partnership is far more likely to have the support of the headteacher and leadership team because their attention will be focused on measurable benefits.

5 Appeal to parents

It is also vital to include parents if partnerships are to have long-term impact. A pupil may engage in an aspirational experience, but if they're not encouraged by their family they are less likely to pursue their dreams.

Some fee-paying parents may resent staff time being allocated to non-fee-paying pupils. Providing families with the opportunity to observe the benefits for their child of engaging in an inter-school science activity, performing in a concert or competing in a sports tournament with pupils from other schools will undoubtedly give sceptical parents from both sectors greater insight.

We live in a world where expectations need to be consistently high for all children and in all schools. Partnerships are an economical and creative way of furthering that.

Deborah Leek-Bailey is chair of the IndependentState School Partnerships forum

`Only fear stops us working together'

I have had the privilege of working in both the state and independent sectors, and I would not be the teacher I am today without these experiences.

State schools take a wide variety of abilities and work incredibly hard to maximise their pupils' potential.

Independent schools can offer a wider selection of lessons and activities, and have the freedom to help their pupils succeed in any area.

However, many schools do not fit into a neat category: when you look at grammar and free schools, the line between state and independent is not as clear. And so perhaps it is only fear of the "other" that prevents the two sectors from working more closely together.

The independent sector works fantastically well; that's why I work at the school I do. However, that does not mean that schools cannot learn from one another. Inviting a range of schools to your own events and sporting fixtures throughout the year is one way in which a constructive relationship can and should be developed.

Christopher Hammond, pictured, is deputy headteacher at Maltman's Green School in Buckinghamshire

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar, Buyagift.com, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today