Inspiring Schools Partnerships – the Schools Together Group’s first Annual Conference at Eton College 24th May 2017

Guest Post by:  David Hall (Teacher Research Lead at Samuel Whitbread Academy) and Jennie Richards (Emeritus Teacher Research Lead).  David and Jennie attended this conference on behalf of SUPER. Although all the partnerships presenting at the conference involved  collaborations of schools between state and independent sectors (unlike SUPER), it was to prove a thought provoking and interesting day which enabled us to reflect on our own partnership in new ways.

Keynote speakers at the start of the conference gave context to the growth of cross sector partnerships. Tom Arbuthnott of Eton College, as part of his welcoming speech, distributed a paper titled, “Independent-State School Partnerships:  An initial review of evidence and current practices”. This was produced by Bill Lucas, Louise Stoll, Toby Greany, Anna Tsakalaki and Rebecca Nelson. Bill Lucas then spoke in more detail about the findings of this report. It is available to download from

This document provides both an academic literature review as the context for Independent-State School Partnerships (ISSPs), and a survey of current practice as reported by independent schools. Its conclusions show that not only is there a growing number of ISSPs, but that there is a wide variety of different approaches and foci for the partnerships. There is considerable enthusiasm for ISSPs, but significantly there is “no agreement of what constitutes best practice and we found no ISSPs which are being or have been formally evaluated for their impact or cost/benefit”.

John Weeks from the London Academy of Excellence laid out four key ingredients to successful partnerships of this nature.  He identified:

  • An identified need which could be addressed through partnership and skills matching
  • Financial security for the partnership
  • Academic security, meaning that there was an availability of expertise from specialist staff, mentoring, support, advice and guidance
  • A shared vision from single minded leadership in the partnership

Workshops These ideas were buzzing around in our heads as David and I attended a total of eight workshops out of the fifteen available. These described a range of current programmes covering mainly subject based developments, cross stage projects, teacher training and staff development.

An example of one of the workshops was given by Simon Davies who spoke about establishing a successful and sustainable schools partnership which is focused on:

  1. Working together using people, expertise, enthusiasm and resources
  2. Developing Priorities which inspire, excite and offer opportunities
  3. Being beneficial for young people, staff and schools

His premise centred around five fundamental aspects being essential to success and sustainability.  Firstly there was a need for a clear, agreed, apolitical vision.  Secondly, the people involved and their relationships need to have a commonality of purpose, an agreement for time investment and the important roles filled by the right type of characters to ensure the partnership continues.  Thirdly, there had to be a sustainable structure of meetings where the vision is repeated and cultivated, feedback and evaluations are discussed and resonance sought.  Meetings should also be planned for outreach to widen the scope and effectiveness of the partnership.  Fourthly, funding needs to be taken seriously and whilst schools should be prepared to be involved other sources of local interest and beneficiaries should be sought.  Lastly the management of the partnership needs to focus on transmission, collaboration, win-win-win and consistency.

The final panel discussion session also led to some key reflections for us both as the topic was, “How to measure the impact of school partnerships” which is often a topic of discussion at SUPER. The speakers were:

Speakers shared the view that partnerships need to be evaluated systematically and against previously agreed criteria. An emphasis on rigour and focus, a clear starting point, interim evaluation points and success measures were also necessary. The problems of measuring so called “softer” impacts, such as on resilience, character etc., were discussed as were ways to capture student and teacher perceptions regarding these issues.

Toby Greany emphasised that it is difficult to measure impact over different cultural contexts. He also spoke of the need to acknowledge difficulties and failures. He argued that just meeting measurable targets is insufficient because evaluation should be part of an ongoing improvement agenda, not just an end in itself. Whilst before and after audits can be effective, learning from all stakeholders must be properly evaluated.

Our Reflections. The conference made us consider the nature and impact of our SUPER partnership. We plan to develop a think piece to raise some ideas for discussion within the partnership, particularly regarding best practice, evaluation and cost/benefit analysis.

Having more than one attendee from our partnership proved to be a good way to promote an exchange of ideas and to share our experiences and interpretations of what we experienced. Even though SUPER is not an ISSP, there was much food for thought created as a result of a most interesting and informative day. Thank you to “Schools Together” for organising the conference and to Eton College for hosting the event so successfully. In addition, thanks to all the excellent speakers who contributed greatly to the experience we enjoyed.

David Hall & Jennie Richards

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