High-achieving schools are avoiding entering into partnerships despite this form of collaboration forming a key part of government school reform proposals, a report has revealed.
A National Audit Office study released earlier this month has shown that schools with pupils aged 11 to 14 who are achieving good results are less likely to be involved in partnership with another school.
The public accounts watchdog said that although partnering between schools has "yet to reach its full potential", its research showed that collaboration between schools can deliver "substantial benefits" to help schools improve.
The report said: "Schools with better-attaining 11 to 14-year-olds, with fewer problems with pupil behaviour, and with a relatively small proportion of pupils receiving free school meals are less likely to be working in partnerships than other schools.
"These schools could do more to share their expertise with and support other schools in their locality."
According to headteachers who gave evidence to the watchdog, partnerships were important not just to improve standards but in "sharing resources, energising teachers and broadening the curriculum".
But John Bangs, NUT head of education, was not surprised that high-performing schools did not enter into partnerships. They are too worried about their position in league tables, he said.
"It's a classic case of a shotgun marriage," Mr Bangs said. "Schools will co-operate on a level that is comfortable. Most good schools do not want to enter into a partnership for fear of becoming a hard federation.
"This is an example of one Government drive clashing with another. On the one hand it is asking schools to become partnerships, and on the other it is holding schools accountable via league tables and baseline targets. If this is to work, then accountability has to change," he said.
The Government outlined its plans to encourage all schools to enter into partnerships, as well as "wider children's services", in its 21st Century Schools: A World-Class Education for Every Child white paper two weeks ago. Vernon Coaker, Schools Minister, said partnerships were the only way a school could provide for each of its pupils' requirements.
"No school can meet the needs of all its pupils alone, and it's encouraging that the majority of schools in this study found partnering to be a valuable tool for improving standards of attainment and behaviour," Mr Coaker said.
"Our package of reforms will enable schools to offer more by working together, and, as this report found, partnering has the potential to make better use of existing resources as well as expertise," he added.