Schools and businesses are increasingly being encouraged to establish partnerships. Yet with so many different organisations to work with, it can be difficult for school leaders to know where to start. Philip Avery shares his insights and advice on what works – and just as importantly what doesn’t.
I have spoken to many school leaders about establishing partnerships with business, and the same concern arises time and again. This is that the time investment needed to pursue such activities will surely far outweigh the benefits that schools and their students can actually accrue from establishing business partners.
However, in my experience the partnerships at Bohunt have enriched our curriculum, facilitated exciting activities, provided inspiring mentors for students and staff alike, and led to pathways to apprenticeships.
Here are five key pieces of advice I would offer to any school looking to establish its own partnerships:
- Be flexible
One common mistake schools make when approaching businesses is having a rigid idea of what they are looking for from a partnership. This will too often close the conversation before it has even started. Keeping an open dialogue leads to some of the most innovative ideas, with school and business leaders putting their minds together to develop exciting opportunities for students.
- Keep it local
Businesses are far more receptive to partnerships with local schools, so whether the headquarters of a large company is based close to your school or there are smaller businesses in the area, prioritising these are more likely to lead to success. They offer greater potential for establishing long-term partnerships, with employment and apprenticeship opportunities down the line.
- Keep innovation in mind
There is huge scope to drive forward innovation in the curriculum with the support of business partners. Their knowledge and expertise, and experience applying subject knowledge to real-world challenges, offer students the chance to gain skills that cannot be easily taught through the traditional curriculum.
Through our partnership with Siemens, we were able to design STEM lessons, based around a series of challenges that aimed to develop not only knowledge, but key skills and habits of mind. The challenges mirrored real-world issues Siemens face and focused on areas of knowledge they felt were missing from the curriculum. These lessons provide students with skills needed to succeed in the workplace, and have inspired students to pursue careers in STEM. The CBI published a case study of this successful partnership.
- There’s more to it than money
We all know school budgets are tight, so it can be tempting to seek out financial support from business partners. However, it can be far more valuable for students to have access to the knowledge and expertise within businesses. Furthermore, seeking out direct financial assistance could well put businesses off a partnership and foreclose the opportunity to tap into some of these important opportunities for learning.
- Designate responsibility
It is important to ensure that one of your senior leadership team take responsibility for any external engagement. This will provide a much clearer and well-targeted strategy. Without this necessary oversight, efforts will less likely maintain the momentum needed to establish meaningful relationships.
School and business partnerships can be fruitful relationships which are well worth pursuing. They can take a myriad of different forms and work to fit your school’s individual priorities. One final thing I would say is talk to people who have done it before and get their advice – our door is always open!