School Partnerships and Cooperation - Education Committee Contents

1 Introduction

Background to the inquiry

1. In the 2010 Schools White Paper the Government set out its vision of a self-improving education system, stating that:

    our aim should be to create a school system which is more effectively self-improving. [...] It is also important that we design the system in a way which allows the most effective practice to spread more quickly and the best schools and leaders to take greater responsibility and extend their reach.[1]

2. Partnership working and cooperation between schools has long been part of the education landscape, whether encouraged by government or not. Nevertheless, in recent years and alongside the changing role of local authorities, school partnerships and cooperation have become an increasingly important part of what has been referred to as a "self-improving" or "school-led" system.[2] This has been seen particularly in the successful London Challenge and City Challenge programmes which led to significant improvements in the schools in the areas involved. It has also been a key driver behind the rapid expansion of the academies programme.

3. There seems little doubt among school leaders that collaboration can play an important part in school improvement. Research commissioned by the National College of Teaching and Leadership suggested that 87% of headteachers and 83% of chairs of governors describe partnership with other schools as "critical to improving outcomes for students".[3] The same survey also found that a majority of headteachers (60%) felt the policy environment is supportive of forming collaborative partnerships, although this leaves a large proportion of school leaders who do not endorse that view.[4]


4. We launched our inquiry into School Partnerships and Cooperation on 13 March 2013, inviting written evidence on the following matters:

  • the differing forms of school partnership and cooperation, and whether they have particular advantages and disadvantages;
  • how highly performing schools could better be encouraged to cooperate with others;
  • whether schools have sufficient incentives to form meaningful and lasting relationships with other schools;
  • if and how the potential tension between school partnership and cooperation, and school choice and competition can be resolved;
  • whether converter academies' requirements to support other schools, included in their funding agreements, are sufficient and are effectively policed;
  • whether academies sponsored by another school receive sufficient support from their sponsor;
  • whether school partnerships drive effective school improvement; and
  • whether there are any additional upsides or downsides for highly performing schools supporting others through partnerships.

Evidence base of our inquiry

5. We received around 50 submissions of written evidence from a range of organisations and individuals, including state-funded schools, independent schools, an academy chain, Co-operative trusts and clusters, representatives of local government, national collaborative organisations, teaching and school leadership unions, academics, policy researchers, Ofsted and the Department for Education (DfE).

6. We held two formal oral evidence sessions, where we heard from a range of witnesses. These were:

·  leaders of schools and organisations involved in collaborative working;

·  academics and researchers with expertise in the field of school partnerships;

·  representatives from organisations providing the structure for schools to work together; and,

·  the responsible Minister (Lord Nash, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Schools) and relevant DfE official (Andrew McCully, Director General for Infrastructure and Funding).

7. This inquiry has benefited from the involvement of our specialist advisers, Professor Mel Ainscow and Professor Alan Smithers, and we are grateful to them for sharing their expertise.[5]

Background information

8. The forms of collaboration included within the description of "schools partnerships and cooperation" are highly diverse, both because of substantive differences in the depth of collaboration and because of differences in the forms partnership can take. The terms "partnership", "cooperation" and "collaboration" are sometimes used interchangeably, but the key distinction is between those partnerships which have a formal basis and those which do not.



9. In a Federation, schools create a single, federated governing body for two or more schools. The federated governing body may then choose to create joint roles, such as a single "executive" headteacher across multiple schools, but this is not a necessary part of federation. The Education Act 2002 initially laid the ground for formal partnership through federation. Since then regulations have been progressively updated so that now maintained schools may form federations under The School Governance (Federations) (England) Regulations 2012. A variation is statutory collaboration, under the School Governance (Collaboration) Regulations 2003. In these cases, schools retain their own governing bodies but create a joint committee with some delegated powers. Only maintained schools may form federations, just as only academies can form chains.

Trust schools

10. Introduced by the Education and Inspections Act 2006, Trust schools allow a maintained foundation school to be supported by a charitable foundation (referred to as "the Trust"). In return the Trust is able to appoint some of the Governors and bring additional expertise to support the school leadership. They have some similarities to sponsored academies, except that they do not entirely sever links with their local authority. This model has been particularly popular among schools wishing to adopt a Co-operative model, with clusters of schools setting up Co-operative trusts with representation from stakeholders, such as parents, staff, learners and the local community. In the same way as academy chains, schools supported by one Trust work together.

"Academy chains" (Multi-academy Trusts, Umbrella Trusts and Collaborative Partnerships)

11. The term "academy chain" is often used to describe any group of academies working together (under some definitions, such as that adopted by the National College for School Leadership report "The growth of academy chains: implications for leaders and leadership", more than two schools[6]). As such, it has become a broad term covering a wide variety of partnership structures of varying degrees of closeness. The following definitions draw on pages[7] and documents[8] from the DfE website:

i.  Multi-academy Trust (MAT): A number of schools join together and form a single Trust and Board of Directors—there is only one legal entity accountable for all schools in the Trust and there is one set of Articles which governs all the academies in that Trust. The MAT has a Master Funding Agreement with the Secretary of State and each academy also has a Supplemental Funding Agreement. The MAT may set up either a local governing body or advisory body for each Academy. The MAT can agree to delegate some matters to this local governing body.

ii.  Umbrella Trust (UT): This allows a cluster of primary schools, or a mixture of primary and secondary, to set up a trust which allows them to work together while still retaining a certain level of independence and individuality. For example, the UT may appoint a governor in each school in the chain to provide a clear link between the schools. It can also procure joint services to reduce costs for all of the individual schools involved. This allows schools of mixed category (e.g. Voluntary Controlled, Voluntary Aided, and Community) to work together. Multi-academy Trusts can be members of an Umbrella Trust.

iii.  Collaborative Partnerships: There is no shared Trust or governance arrangement in a collaborative partnership. A collaborative partnership is simply an agreement between a group of Academies to work together. The Academies themselves can decide how tight or formalised to make such an arrangement; for example, through agreeing a contract or publicising their arrangement.

12. MATs and UTs are functions of the structure and content of academies' funding agreements and memoranda and articles of association. These can only be altered with the permission of the Secretary of State.


National Teaching Schools

13. The Government's primary focus for school to school cooperation is through National Teaching Schools. These act as hubs for both initial and ongoing training. Schools applying to become Teaching Schools are asked for "evidence of successful partnerships as well as excellent leadership with a proven track record of school improvement". [9]

14. Teaching Schools act as the core of a Teaching School Alliance. These are cooperative organisations that may cross phase, sector and local authority lines. There is no single model of what a Teaching School Alliance should look like. They vary both in structure— for example some are led by more than one teaching school—and in funding strategy (as we heard from Peter Maunder, when comparing Torbay Teaching School Alliance with Cabot Learning Federation's Teaching School Alliance[10]). As of May 2013, there are just over 360 Teaching Schools across England.[11]

System leadership (National Leaders of Education, National Support Schools, Local Leaders of Education and Specialist Leaders of Education)

15. The National College of Teaching and Leadership co-ordinates the "system leadership" programmes. These encourage headteachers of highly performing schools to "use their skills and experience to support schools in challenging circumstances" by working to "increase the leadership capacity of other schools to help raise standards". Outstanding headteachers can apply to be Local Leaders of Education (LLEs) or National Leaders of Education (NLEs). The selection criteria for the latter are more demanding than those for the former and the role encompasses other members of their school staff, with the schools designated National Support Schools (NSS).[12] There are over 800 National Leaders of Education (NLE) and almost 2,000 Local Leaders of Education (LLE), with a third of secondary heads and a sixth of primary heads either an NLE, LLE or a member of a Teaching School alliance.[13]

16. Specialist Leaders of Education (SLEs) are outstanding middle or senior leaders, with "the skills to support individuals or teams in similar positions in other schools".[14] Unlike NLEs and LLE, SLEs are specifically attached to a local Teaching School alliance.

Collaborative organisations

17. Many national school to school support organisations have sprung up in the past few years. A report from the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) on the role of the "middle tier" in enabling school improvement argues that such "national middle tier bodies [are important] for inspiration and support".[15] Examples of national collaborative organisations include the Whole Education network,[16] the PiXL club,[17] and Challenge Partners.[18] Unlike the programmes above, such organisations are not Government initiatives. As such, they are particularly good examples of the concept of a school-led system.

1   Department for Education, The Importance of Teaching: the Schools White Paper 2010, Cm 7980, November 2010, para 7.4 Back

2   Ibid. Back

3   National College for School Leadership, Review of the school leadership landscape, December 2012,. p 56. Back

4   Ibid. Back

5   Professor Smithers, Director of the Centre for Education and Employment Research, University of Buckingham, declared no interests. Professor Ainscow, Professor of Education and co-director of the Centre for Equity in Education, University of Manchester, declared no interests.


6   National College for School Leadership, The growth of academy chains: implications for leaders and leadership, January 2012, p 6 Back

7   "Academy chains FAQs", Department for Education, 20 July 2012, Back

8   "Models of Academy chains", Department for Education, Back

9   National teaching schools, National College Support for Schools article, Back

10   Q 31 [Peter Maunder] Back

11   Teaching schools get £10 million to boost quality of teacher training, Department for Education press release, 21 March 2013 , Back

12   National leaders of education and national support schools, National College Support for Schools article, Back

13   Teaching schools get £10 million to boost quality of teacher training, Department for Education press release, 21 March 2013 , Back

14   Specialist leaders of education, National College Support for Schools article, Back

15   National Federation for Educational Research. What works in enabling school improvement? The role of the middle tier, 2013, p 4. Back

16   What we do, Whole Education website, Back

17   Home page, The PiXL Club website, Back

18   About, Challenge Partners website, Back

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© Parliamentary copyright 2013
Prepared 6 November 2013