State and independent school partnerships

ISC is gathering information about successful partnerships and providing details of what works best.


85% of ISC schools are in mutually beneficial partnerships with state schools (ISC 2020 Census), sharing expertise, best practice and facilities to the benefit of children in all the schools involved. The ISC Schools Together website illustrates examples of some of these partnerships.

The best partnerships develop between Heads or teachers really wanting to work together, out of genuine local relationships and enthusiasms.

ISC independent schools are hugely different, from the very large well known schools, such as Eton and Harrow, to the very small or non-selective schools serving local aspirational families. Half of ISC schools have fewer than 290 pupils. They therefore need to work in ways appropriate to their circumstances and according to the local situation and need.

ISC's Celebrating Partnerships Booklets

Celebrating Partnerships 2023 - Issue 8

Celebrating Partnerships 2022 - Issue 7

Celebrating Partnerships 2021 - Issue 6

Celebrating Partnerships 2020 - Issue 5

Celebrating Partnerships 2019 - Issue 4

Celebrating Partnerships 2018 - Issue 3

Celebrating Partnerships 2017 - Issue 2

Celebrating Partnerships 2017 - Issue 1

“The excellent work that King’s College School leads with seven partner schools is a great example of the strong partnerships that exist between many independent and state schools. It means students and teachers from both sectors learn from each other – and it is extremely beneficial all round.” Lord Nash, former Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for the School System

Co-operation and Collaboration

For some larger schools, such as Westminster or Wellington, this will take the form of sponsoring academies. 25 independent schools (ISC 2020 Census) are leading the sector’s involvement with academies and free schools.

For other schools, it will be a Partnership based on co-operation and collaboration between independent schools and the maintained schools in their area. Many of our schools have been doing this kind of work for years, unsung. There are now many flourishing independent state school partnerships, such as the City of York Independent /State School Partnership, the Southwark Schools Learning Partnership and the Dorchester Area Schools Partnership which are all well established and very successful, each offering a myriad of opportunities and benefits to all the schools concerned.

Partnerships based on co-operation and collaboration between independent schools and state schools

“The Partnership is at the heart of our school. I am passionate about it. We are always thinking about our partner schools and how we can collaborate with them through exchanging ideas and sharing good teaching practice.” Marion Gibbs, former Headmistress, James Allen’s Girls’ School and co-founder of the Southwark Schools' Learning Partnership.

Charitable Status

Independent schools are very keen to work with local schools. Contributing to and sharing with the local community is part of the very charitable ethos and purpose of our schools. In 2011, following a judicial review with the Charities Commission, it was determined that independent schools could decide for themselves the best way in which they could offer public benefit.

Our schools work with maintained schools in all sorts of ways. We:

  • provide qualified teachers in specialist subjects to state schools.
  • share expertise to help state school students get into top universities.
  • run joint extra- curricular programmes where the state school is an equal partner.
  • provide GCSE or A-level revision classes.
  • provide classes in subjects not on offer at some state schools, such as classics and Modern Foreign Languages.
  • offer shared subject workshops and masterclasses.
  • provide coaching with music, drama and sport.
  • offer Saturday schools to local state schools, such as James Allen’s Girls’ school in Dulwich, which provides 500 local children with music, dance and drama teaching every week in term time.

Contributing to and sharing with the local community is part of the charitable ethos of ISC schools

Bursary Provision

Independent schools have a strong commitment to supporting social mobility and would like to be able to offer more places to children who deserve, but can’t afford, them. There are nearly 45,000 children at ISC schools on means-tested assistance, with over 8,000 on 100% fee assistance.

  • Since 2011 the total value of means-tested assistance at ISC schools has risen by 75%.
  • 46% of all bursary holders have more than half of their fees remitted.

There are nearly 45,000 children, at ISC schools, on means-tested assistance

ISC Annual Census 2021

Independent Schools and Tax

More than 1,000 ISC schools are not-for-profit businesses and nearly 1,000 ISC schools have charitable status. They are a small part of more than 88,000 educational charities that are registered with the Charity Commission. Academies and free schools are charities, as are the vast majority of sixth form colleges, universities and colleges of further education.

Charitable status significantly predates the modern taxation system, but all charities pay tax and independent schools are no exception. Charities benefit from tax exemptions and reliefs, but estimates of charity tax reliefs are inherently unreliable. There are at least 18 different taxes that can affect charities, the single largest category being employer NICs, followed by irrecoverable VAT.

The majority of ISC independent schools are not-for-profit businesses with charitable status