DfE releases guide to partnerships with universities and private schools

The Department for Education has published guidance and case studies aimed at encouraging more partnerships between state schools, universities and the independent school sector.

The documents include a guide to setting up partnerships and how to write a “memorandum of understanding” outlining the terms of a common plan of action. They also feature examples of different models that can be used, and descriptions of existing effective partnerships.

The aim of the resources is to encourage different educational institutions “to come together to share their expertise, teaching staff, resources and extra-curricular activities”, the DfE said. It follows a significant climb-down on plans to force universities and private schools to sponsor state schools.

When organisations across the education sector work together the positive impact on pupils can be huge

Proposals to force the hand of reluctant partners in the higher education and independent school sector were first mooted in the 2016 schools that work for everyone consultation, but were kicked into the long grass and eventually shelved in favour of a more collaborative approach.

Examples of partnership working outlined in today’s guidance include access to university science labs and autism research centres, and placements for vulnerable children in independent schools, organised in partnership with councils.

In May this year, an agreement between the Independent Schools Council and the DfE confirmed that the ISC would have to publish details of how partnerships between its members and state schools were working. 

This was followed by another joint commitment last month, to encourage more independent schools to share swimming facilities with partners in the state sector.

In September, the DfE also sought help from university students in tacking the falling numbers of GCSE pupils taking modern foreign languages, by setting up a ‘languages mentoring project’ for year 9 pupils to discuss the subjects with young people studying them at a higher level.  

But collaboration between schools and universities has not always succeeded.

Earlier this year, the University of Chester Academies Trust folded altogether, giving up its seven schools due to serious financial difficulties. In 2015, Schools Week reported that the University of Bournemouth, the University of Liverpool and Canterbury Church University had all withdrawn their sponsorship of local schools.

In May, Schools Week revealed that the DfE had been given the cold shoulder by a number of universities that declined the opportunity to open specialist maths schools.

At the time Dan Abramson, headteacher of King’s College London Mathematics School, explained that universities are “typically risk-averse”, making them disinclined to take part in schemes they haven’t tried before.

But academies minister Lord Agnew has written to multi-academy trusts urging them to consider building such external partnerships “as an additional tool in their school improvement arsenal”.

“When organisations across the education sector work together the positive impact on pupils can be huge – raising aspirations and unlocking young people’s potential.”

Julie Robinson, general secretary of the Independent Schools Council. said: “We support the development of any resources which help demonstrate the impact of partnerships.

“Through partnership work, we encourage all schools to continue supporting teacher training opportunities, sharing governance expertise and enriching the curriculum so that more children can thrive.”

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