Independent/state school partnerships - the way forward?
By Sunena Stoneham, Legal and Policy Adviser - Independent Schools Council.
Today I attended the Education Select Committee’s first oral evidence session in relation to School Partnership and Cooperation at Portcullis House.
The main aim of the Committee was to gain perspective on the range of partnerships and collaborative working that is currently in existence; to discuss models which are resulting in school improvement; and to explore how these models could become more effective. The general consensus on the witness panel was that the different models that are running at present work, and that all parties involved benefit from these relationships.
In attendance and giving evidence from the perspective of an independent school was Leo Winkley, the Headmaster of St Peter’s School York. He stated that independent schools have a “genuine desire to engage locally in meaningful partnerships”. He further added that “it is about bringing pupils into contact and not just about cash and sharing swimming pools”. Once schools get to know each other, understand and agree on a focus, the barriers begin to fall and they begin to work collaboratively. He said that he feels the York model has made an “impact on social cohesion” and that pupils that may not have considered subjects such as Maths and Science have taken them up at A Level. He added that the “upsides are so significant” and in his experience parents have not expressed any objection.
ISC highlighted the need for funding in our written submissions to the Committee in May, and it seemed that all the panel members were inclined to agree that proper funding needs to be reinstated. Leo Winkley was keen to convey that the York model has proven very successful and that other independent schools can and do work from this model but more need to be incentivised by the government providing funding. Peter Maunder, Headteacher at Oldway School, was also very clear that funding would allow more teachers to train and participate in these types of arrangements which would result in them bringing the acquired knowledge back to their own schools. The funding would also help to avoid the problems that Mervyn Wilson highlighted such as a change in participation with a departing head teacher that is particularly passionate about collaboration. Sir David Carter, Executive Principal at the Cabot Learning Foundation, commented that it is also important to sustain the model and keep the resource running. He added that there have been cases where struggling schools have achieved good results but have then found it difficult to sustain them in the long-term. If funding is provided, schools can implement a system which will go on for a period of time so as to provide a long-term benefit.
One of the questions posed by the Committee was whether there are any concerns with budgets and/or a dip in performance by stronger schools supporting struggling schools. Sir David Carter stated that there is “a risk now that funding is not available” and that there was a need to develop a pool and focus on long term partnerships. To which Mervyn Wilson added that “the stronger schools benefit just as much” and referred to the National Challenge Trust and the mutual benefits of institutionalising a partnership. Leo Winkley concluded that independent schools benefit just as much as state schools and are aware that they can do more together than alone, and funding would make a huge difference as schools have a shared and unifying interest in the well-being of all their youngsters.