Partnerships update

The independent sector has been encouraged to develop partnerships with state-funded schools. Many independent schools consider local partnerships, collaboration with other schools and charitable work to be a moral imperative and their good efforts in these areas are not only related to their charitable status. A proportion of ISC schools are not charities yet they are also supportive of collaborative activity.  The majority engage in some sort of partnership activity.


In July 2015, the Lords proposed amendments to a Charities Bill which would have imposed legal obligations on schools which are charities to share specified facilities.

ISC responded in defence of the good work already taking place and argued that partnership work is best encouraged in a flexible way, voluntarily and according to local conditions, growing through effective working relationships. We argued that to force a one-size-fits-all methodology through in legislation would be damaging and counter-productive and the focus on facilities was erroneous given the range of benefits independent schools are able to provide, for example, sporting, musical, dramatic and academic collaborations, staff training, CCF and careers advice. The sector mustered its communication networks in support, encouraging independent schools to disclose and develop partnership working through messaging in ISC bulletins and all members association conferences and newsletters across the sector.  

The amendment was defeated in the Lords following efforts from ISC to demonstrate that significant partnership work already takes place and it was accepted that most independent schools do not have vast facilities and legislating in this way could actually do more harm than good. It was agreed that cross-sector partnership working would be monitored in the following ways:

  • The Schools Together website would promote and inspire partnership working between schools. ISC Associations would encourage member schools to engage with this voluntarily.
  • The ISC’s annual census questions would be enhanced to collect more information than before about the nature and extent of ISC school partnership activity. Aggregate findings would be shared with the Charity Commission (CC) as part of a research project.
  • The CC would publish new guidance for schools which are charities encouraging fuller disclosure of partnership working as part of public benefit activities. This guidance and an example trustees’ annual report would be circulated by ISC and its constituent Associations in order to bring it to the attention of member schools.


The Schools Together website - - went live in January and by March was showcasing over a thousand examples of partnerships of various kinds. Schools Together includes links to a website for potential governors to find state schools and has the support of teachers’ unions and the National Citizen Service. Engagement with this site has been strongly recommended to member schools by all ISC Associations.

The ISC’s 2016 census included expanded questions about partnerships to capture more detailed information. Partnerships data collected on the ISC database will be shared in aggregate and non-attributable form with the CC over the summer to inform the CC research report into independent school engagement with partnership working across the sectors.

Both the ISC and the CC have encouraged independent schools to disclose in annual reports to the CC the nature and detail of their public benefit working through partnerships and collaborative projects in order to develop a clearer view of the extent of this work.


Figures are presented in the 2016 ISC Census (available here) on pages 21 and 22 where an infographic and supporting commentary set out the ISC’s findings with respect to partnerships with state schools:

  • 1,337 facilities are shared with local state schools.
  • 1,112 of our 1,280 schools are engaged in partnership work with state schools.
  • More specifically, the large majority are involved with sporting collaborations (991).  Most are involved in academic collaborations (848).  Roughly half our schools are involved in music partnerships (616) and half are involved with drama partnerships (570). Most are involved with some other kind of partnerships (892) for example serving as governors at a state school (515).  Following a campaign for greater partnership in recent years these results can be considered to be a fair indication of the high level of engagement already in process.
  • Approximately 160,000 state school pupils benefit from these partnerships.
  • Our census data capture also provided insight into reasons why some schools do not share facilities.  Barriers include lack of interest from local state schools, local council restrictions on traffic and inferior facilities in comparison with local state-funded schools.
  • It would be very helpful if state-funded schools were encouraged to engage in partnership working with independent schools.
  • Many independent schools are now involved with academies. Most feel academy sponsorship is beyond their means and competence but are very willing to engage in other ways. In 2015/16, 119 ISC schools were involved with academies in some way.
  • In addition to the above, ISC schools award bursaries and means-tested scholarships to 8% of pupils and are providing more than ever to a value of over £350 million per year, helping approximately 40,000 pupils in 2015/16 with an average of £9,000 per pupil subsidised.

Next steps

  • The ISC and Associations will continue to encourage schools to engage in partnership activities alongside other public benefit activities. There are two talks already scheduled to encourage interest in partnership at the Wellington Festival of Education in June. Further press releases, articles and presentations will continue to highlight the importance of partnerships.
  • The Independent / State School Partnership Forum (ISSP) will continue to build interest from the state funded sector through academies chains, church groups, teachers’ and school leaders’ unions.
  • The Charity Commission will report its research findings in due course.

The range of partnership projects reflects the diversity of schools across both sectors and this variation might be a factor in the success of collaborations.

The ISC is encouraged by progress made although we still contend with an unsympathetic media, quick to pick up on divisive messages from prominent spokespeople that hamper our efforts to nurture goodwill.

A note from Rt Hon Lord Wallace of Saltaire

Best practice in cooperation between independent and state schools is very impressive – and highly diverse. Some sponsor academies; others share 6th form specialisms, host music sessions for local primary school pupils, exchange ideas among teachers, or help talented athletes develop their potential. There’s no single model: resources available differ widely, and schools in rural areas face different needs and opportunities from those in cities. I’ve been encouraged to discover how both sides can benefit from partnership, in all sorts of different ways: ensuring that children understand the national community within which they live, that teachers learn new techniques and confront different challenges – and that facilities for music, drama, art and sport are fully utilised.

I’m proud of the partnerships I have seen in several places – but concerned that there are other areas where neither side appears to talk to the other, and seem reluctant to take the first step. Independent schools are part of the fabric of British society. Effective partnerships across the country, learning from what the most active schools in the sector are already doing, will further enrich the contribution that independent schools make and the reputation that they deserve.

A note from Deborah Leek-Bailey OBE, Chairman of Independent/State Schools Partnership Forum and Advisor to Secretary of State on Cross Sector Collaboration

Throughout the past year the collaborations between independent schools and the state sector have gathered momentum and much of this can be attributed to the resourceful way in which ISC has engaged with DfE, visited schools, endorsed successful partnerships and identified new opportunities for both sectors to engage. ISC has worked closely with the ISSP forum, which has provided new opportunities for collaborations with teaching schools, heads unions, academy chains and organisations such as the Sutton Trust and Specialist Sports Academy Trust (SSAT) and Multi Academy Trusts (MATS).

The ISSP forum has facilitated significant conversations between ISC and key government departments regarding addressing the dilemma surrounding shortage subjects, initial teacher training and succession planning in the maintained sector.

As chair of ISSP I have had various meetings with representatives from the House of Lords outlining the engagement of ISC schools in collaborative initiatives and this included discussions with Lord Moynihan focused on using the sports premium towards ISSPs.

The ISSP forum also initiated a partnership coordinators meeting at the DfE, to which the minister was in attendance. Those invited reflected the diversity of ISC schools and the schools’ minster was extremely interested in their work. The intention of creating such a forum was so that those involved in delivering partnership activity could meet with others in similar roles and feedback to the ISSP forum on their work in the field, whereas the ISSP forum would operate at a more strategic and senior level within the member organisations.

The Schools Together website has provided exposure of numerous interesting and successful ISSPs which have not only raised levels of attainment and provided value added to the pupils concerned but also heightened awareness amongst staff from both sectors regarding innovative teaching. All staff involved have commented on the intrinsic value of their partnerships.

Some ISC members have become engaged in MATS as governors and this is an area for further exploration by both AGBIS and ISBA. Whilst the government would encourage all schools to become involved in academies it also appreciates the variation in size, and physical and human resources that might prevent independent schools from sponsoring academies. Nevertheless, there are many other ways of becoming engaged with academies and some ISC schools, such as Westminster and Dulwich have reaped benefit from providing curriculum and staffing input to neighbouring academies.


About ISC schools

The Independent Schools Council (ISC) brings together seven associations of independent schools, their heads, bursars and governors. Through our member associations we represent nearly 1,300 independent schools and 500,000 pupils in the UK.  ISC schools are ranked among the best in the world by the OECD. They contribute £9.5 billion pa to the economy, slightly larger than the City of Liverpool or the BBC, generate £3.6 billion in tax pa and support 227,200 people in employment. For more information please visit the ISC website.

About the author

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