Mutual friends

The following article was originally published in the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL)'s magazine, Leader.

A new website is helping to highlight good practice in independent and state school partnerships and encouraging others to get involved. Members of the Independent State Schools Partnership (ISSP) Forum Deborah Leek-Bailey and Julie Robinson explain the thinking.

Mutual friends

Partnerships between state-funded and independent schools have always existed and there have been some impressive collaborations over the years.

Many believe there is scope to bring even more schools together in this way. But there’s also a need to capture evidence: if these relationships are effective and are helping to drive improvement in both partner schools, how is it happening and how could that learning be shared with others?

A new website, Schools Together, which was launched in January, aims to help bring more of the good work into the spotlight and encourage more schools to forge partnerships. The website was set up by the Independent State Schools Partnership (ISSP) Forum and is supported by the DfE and Independent Schools Council. In the short time that it has been available, the website already holds more than 1,000 examples of current partnerships from across the UK as well as case studies, advice on how to find a partner school and suggestions for areas for collaboration.

Projects cover academic areas including maths, science, modern foreign languages, sports, drama and the arts but also extra-curricular activities, such as Combined Cadet Force (CCF), volunteering, Oxbridge preparation and governance collaborations. The search tool on the site also allows you to filter your search by other categories, such as digital inclusion or sports partnerships.

Partnerships in practice

The ISSP Forum itself is made up of representatives from key educational bodies, including ASCL, NAHT, the Teaching Schools Council, chief executives of academy chains, general secretaries of Independent Schools Council (ISC) Associations, DfE officials, The Sutton Trust and the chief inspector of the Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI). In 2015, it secured funding from the DfE for a round of partnerships focused on raising attainment in primary schools involving more than 4,000 pupils.

In London, they included a collaboration between the independent Thomas’s Kensington and state primaries St Mary’s and Colville in North Kensington. The Latin teacher of Thomas’s taught the subject to Year 5 pupils from both state schools and the children followed exactly the same course as their counterparts at Thomas’s. The pupils also had specialised workshops from post-graduate students at the University of Oxford, attended workshops with pupils of Thomas’s Kensington and visited Oxford University. Most recently, the pupils from both schools performed a rap in Latin and English on Boudicca in a Thomas’s whole-school assembly.

“The aim is to give pupils a grounding in Latin, an understanding of its relevance in the modern world and, perhaps above all, an appreciation of classical civilisation,” says Rupert Willoughby, Head of Latin at Thomas’s. “It seems very right that we should be sharing our resources and for me it has proved intensely rewarding to bring the Classics to those who might otherwise not always access them.”

In terms of formal assessment, the impact has also been marked: the pupils worked towards the Cambridge Level 2 certificate in Latin and the pass rate was 100 per cent.

In some cases, such as the York Partnership, a wide range of projects are run for mutual benefit and each school pays a small annual subscription to cover the costs of an administrator who programmes and brokers local projects.

Founded ten years ago by Jonathan Taylor, Head of the independent Bootham School, and York City Council, it brings together pupils from six maintained schools, two Church of England (C of E) academies and three independent schools. They participate in a variety of workshops, classes and conferences and more than 5,000 student learning opportunities have been created for secondary students, involving teachers from across the partnership. These include teaching Latin and history of art, running an autumn residential and a summer school, aspirational career talks, enterprise competitions and training events for teachers.

Leo Winkley, Head of the independent St Peter’s School, says, “All our efforts are focused on providing the able and interested children of York with challenging and inspiring opportunities to which they would not otherwise have access. Our ten-year collaboration in York demonstrates that the state and independent sectors can work together very happily.”

Brian Crosby, Head of Manor CE Academy in York, adds, “I really enjoy working with my independent school colleagues in York. They have gone out of their way to support partnership working and are exemplars of collegiate practices.”

In London, Dulwich College is involved in the Southwark partnership and also independently generates many new collaborations, such as that with City Heights E-ACT Academy.

A group of sixth formers from Dulwich have run gifted and talented maths sessions and a maths challenge club each week. The work has given the Year 8 and 9 students a fresh challenge, helped to stretch them and foster new teamwork skills, and prepared them for competitions such as the UK Maths Challenge.

The principal of the academy, Jim Henderson, says, “The partnership work between our two schools has been mutually valued by staff and students alike. From student conferences to staff development to older Dulwich boys helping to develop skills and draw out talents among our younger students, we have seen the huge value of the two sectors working together.

“As the academy grows to a full 11–18 school we anticipate the partnership developing, strengthening and becoming increasingly mutually beneficial.”

Joseph Spence, Headmaster of Dulwich, feels strongly regarding the role that such engagement can bring. He said, “It’s good to see in the sustained work of the ISSP that the Berlin Wall between the state sponsored and independent school sectors in the UK is breaking down. There are so many advantages to all of our children. Each of the sectors have excellences that we benefit from sharing. The result will be, quite simply, the return of the sort of social mobility through education that defined the UK in the decades immediately after the Second World War – and there can be no greater cause.”

Getting involved

Collaboration is not confined to secondary schools or to cities. There are new partnerships in small rural primaries, special schools and early years settings. Numbers on roll should not be a barrier, either; successful collaborations are much more likely to be influenced by the enthusiasm of staff who want to make a difference by collaborating in new ways. We have even seen smaller schools such as Sibford Gower Endowed Primary School and the independent Sibford School, both in Oxfordshire, influence their wider rural community through an initial science project and shared continuing professional development (CPD), which led to closer links between pupils, staff and parents. Communities will undoubtedly benefit from such engagement.

Partnerships evolve out of a mutual need and flourish when there is reciprocity. A priority for young people is to ensure that they have high aspirations, regardless of type of school, gender or ethnicity. We are living in a diverse society and the more opportunities pupils have to collaborate with their peers the more tolerant they are likely to become of alternative perspectives and beliefs.

We advise teachers that they should be lifelong learners so what better way to harness their skills than by encouraging them to collaborate with and observe others?

About the author

Schools Together celebrates and encourages partnership projects between independent schools, state schools and local communities.