£200k fund to encourage partnerships with private schools and universities

A new £200,000 fund will be announced today to help state schools, private schools and universities create or expand partnerships – but recipients will have to stump up some of their own cash.

Schools and universities can bid for up to £20,000 to build partnerships, but the Department for Education said any bid of over £5,000 will have to match the funding with their own money.

The DfE said the match funding requirement was to ensure “pupils continue to benefit beyond the existence of the fund”. The total fund itself is only £200,000, so it is unlikely many will receive the maximum amount.

Academies minister Lord Agnew is set to announce the fund at the Schools Together annual conference later today. It comes after the DfE published guidance about partnerships in November to encourage more providers to work together.

The government considered forcing universities and private schools to work with state schools in 2016, but these plans were eventually shelved in favour of a more collaborative approach.

The Independent Schools Council must publish details of partnerships between its members and state schools.  Its report showed 1,142 independent schools are in partnerships, with the most common collaboration being sharing sports facilities – including swimming pools and tennis courts – and coaches or taking part in matches (1,031 schools).

Meanwhile at university level, the University of York was selected in January to run a £4.8 million languages “centre of excellence” to raise the quality of language teaching in schools. Cardiff University is also running a mentoring project to encourage pupils to take up languages GCSE.

Specialist maths schools have been harder to get off the ground, though, after several leading universities declined the opportunity to open them.

Two are currently open – Exeter Mathematics School and King’s College London Mathematics School – while four more are in the pipeline.

Other collaborations between schools and universities have been less successful.

Last year the University of Chester Academies Trust gave up its seven academies and closed after serious financial difficulties, while the University of Bolton had ties with the failed Greater Manchester UTC and the now-infamous Bright Tribe Trust. It sponsors Bolton UTC, which was told last year it had to join a strong multi-academy trust after a financial investigation.

In May, Schools Week revealed the University of Wolverhampton Multi-Academy Trust top-sliced £376,000 from a school that was £1 million in the red last year, before it was transferred to another trust. In 2017 the trust, then named Education Central Multi-Academy Trust, was ordered to “urgently” improve teaching and school improvement after half of its schools were rated ‘inadequate’ or ‘requires improvement’ by Ofsted.

Agnew will ask education leaders at the conference to “use this opportunity to bring about a new wave of meaningful partnerships, and to encourage others to think about how similar collaborations could benefit their schools”.

Julie Robinson, chief executive of the ISC, said they were “delighted” that funding was being made available to “support the development of meaningful cross-sector school partnerships”.

Daniel Hurley, assistant policy director at Universities UK, said that further “space and investment” to share best practice and “meaningful evaluation” of what works “has the potential to benefit pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds and the wider education sector.

More information on the fund is due to be published in the autumn, when schools will be invited to submit bids.