School Partnerships and Cooperation - Education Committee Contents


School partnerships and cooperation have become an increasingly important part of a self-improving or school-led system. We believe that such collaboration has great potential to continue driving improvement to the English education system. The diversity of structures and models already in place is a strength and proof of vitality. Schools should be able to adopt models of partnership and cooperation that suit their needs within a legislative and policy framework that is as non-prescriptive as possible.

School collaboration offers benefits to all schools involved. While there are tensions between competition and collaboration, these are largely creative tensions and collaboration is growing in many forms within a competitive school system.

Given the high level of enthusiasm for school collaboration, it is striking that definitive evidence of its impact is lacking. We recommend that the Government embed evaluation into further initiatives relating to school partnerships and collects systematic evidence on what works.

The Government has published similar schools data to help schools identify possible partners. Much more needs to be done to provide richer and more easily accessible information and to make this an effective resource for schools. It is regrettable that the data system is not modelled more closely on the families of schools used in the London and City Challenge programmes.

There are different possible incentives to encourage school collaboration. We support Sir Michael Wilshaw's proposal for an excellent leadership award to be given to headteachers who support underperforming schools in disadvantaged communities. We regret that no one has yet devised a workable model of school accountability that incentivises school partnerships and we encourage efforts to generate an appropriate model.

We believe that the Government is right to provide funding to help schools meet the costs associated with taking part in collaboration. We recommend that the Government widen this funding beyond academy sponsorship to assist other partnerships, in particular using the Primary Chains Grant to help schools cover the cost of forming federations. We also recommend that the Government re-introduce targeted seedcorn funding for sustainable Independent State School Partnerships.

Local authorities have a critical role to play in a school-led improvement system. We welcome this emerging new system and we recommend that the Government set out clearly the role of local authorities in helping to broker school-to-school partnerships and acting as champions of all parents and children in their region.

The evidence suggests a need for greater oversight of school partnerships and cooperation, possibly on a regional basis. The Government should set out how organisations in the middle tier will be held to account for strategic oversight of partnership-working in all schools and how they will ensure that gaps are not allowed to develop or remain unfilled, particularly in rural and coastal areas. The DfE and the National College of Teaching and Leadership should identify and designate system leaders, such as National Leaders of Education and Teaching Schools, in areas where they are currently lacking, and increase incentives for existing leaders to work in the areas of greatest need.

The DfE should make an assessment of the quality and capacity to provide expertise within a school-led improvement system and ensure that schools are aware of where they can access such advice.

There is no doubt that academy chains will play an increasingly important part in a self-improvement system. We recommend that Ofsted is provided with the powers it needs to inspect academy chains. We also recommend that the procedures for schools to leave chains by mutual consent are formalised and published and that the Government explains how an outstanding school would be able to leave a chain when this is against the wishes of the chain management.

Convertor academies are expected to support other schools in return for their academy status and yet the evidence to us suggested that this is not happening. We recommend that the DfE urgently reviews its arrangements for monitoring the expectation that convertor academies support other schools.

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Prepared 6 November 2013