Reflections and Rules of Thumb for School Partnerships

Schools have much to feel proud about. The quality of teaching, learning and leadership is better now than it’s ever been and this had had a positive impact on the overall achievement of children.

However, we have an education system characterised by variations in pupil performance. This variation is a feature of the differences in standards between regions, between schools and, even more significantly, within schools. The recent Unseen Children report highlights that we still have a significant number of children who underachieve. Children from poor backgrounds have the worst deal of all – these children are predominantly from disadvantaged and deprived communities in coastal towns, inner cities, rural areas and places that have felt little impact from historical national initiatives.

Changes in the educational landscape over the last 18 months have been unprecedented as policy drives forward autonomy and creates the leverage for a self-improving, self-sustaining system where schools take responsibility for their own and others improvement. Changes here are exciting the rest of the world, and we are perceived to be at the leading edge of radical reform in our efforts to transform a system that is already performing well. These reforms are envisaged by government but only school leaders can enact it.

Partnerships of schools are developing creative ways of working together to serve children and families locally. Here are 5 suggested themes that seem to be key ingredients for effective partnership working.

  1. Shared values and a compelling vision galvanise and motivate people to shared endeavours and a collective commitment for all children in the partnership.  Belief that every child deserves to do well is at the heart of this.  Strong local partnerships consider the whole child’s wellbeing and focus on families.

  2. There is an in-depth knowledge of the context and the families/communities they serve.  This is better understood by a collaborative approach to the use of data.  School leaders confront the facts and build in a programme of peer challenge and support. They adopt a bold approach, confront the brutal facts and then act upon their findings.

  3. The key focus in on school improvement with challenge and support mechanisms intertwined.  Protocols and processes are in place and systematically capture the ‘best bits’ and allow for a diagnostic of need. This diagnostic review may involve an external partner but always includes peers.  Support systems offer bespoke solutions mainly focused on teaching and leadership such as mentoring, coaching, modelling, shadowing and enquiry into practice

  4. The partnership builds capacity and takes sustainability seriously. Members do this by taking a collective response to ITT, recruitment and retention, talent management, succession planning, joint practice development, CPD and leadership development. 

  5. The partnership has formalised in some way.  There is glue that holds it all together.  This might be though a formal structure and shared governance – trust, MAT, federation, TSA and there are shared leadership roles – coordinator, chair, Ex HT, adviser

Repeated reform of the education system has failed to provide the schools children deserve. The time is right for systemic change but only if we move beyond the single school to create relationships and cultures which enable collective empowerment. The future is collaborative.


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