Evidence for the benefits of formal school collaborations

Reference: ‘Forming or Joining a Group of Schools: staying in control of your school’s destiny‘. National Governors Association. September 2015

The words below are largely direct quotes from the reference.

The Education Select Committee undertook two, large-scale enquiries into school partnerships and structures in 2015. These form a significant body of evidence for the benefits of strong collaborations and shared accountability between schools. Here are findings from the first report, School Partnerships and Cooperation:

  • “school partnerships and cooperation have become an increasingly important part of a self-improving or school-led system”;
  • “such collaboration has great potential to continue driving improvement to the English education system”;
  • there was “little doubt among school leaders that collaboration can play an important part in school improvement”;
  • there was significant evidence for the benefits of formal partnerships, including a report for the National College of School Leadership which concluded that schools in federations performed better than schools with apparently similar characteristics that had not federated.
  • federations adopting executive leadership structures (one executive head leading schools within the federation) achieved better results than those which maintained traditional structures (one head teacher for each school).

The select committee concluded: “We believe that school partnerships with clear lines of accountability and some element of obligation are more likely to be successful in achieving gains from collaboration.”

The second report, Academies and Free Schools, set out to explore the impact of these new types
of school.

  • It found no evidence that academisation in itself raises standards. What it strongly
    identified, though, was a relationship between school-to-school collaboration and improved outcomes.
  • It found that the benefits of being part of a formal group were particularly strong for primary
    schools, whose smaller size and greater reliance on local authority support often made standalone academy status more problematic.

For primary schools the report concluded “the model of partnership … is less important than the level of
commitment of the heads and teacher involved”. This belief that it is the shared commitment generated
by entering into formal partnership that makes the difference, whether a MAT or a federation, was clearly articulated by one primary head who told the committee that while becoming an academy had improved their practice and their school, this was primarily because of the advantages generated by the collaborative framework of a MAT: “We are accountable for each other, and therefore it is imperative we support each other to improve.”

  • A 2011 Ofsted report, Leadership of More Than One School: an evaluation of the impact of federated schools, similarly identified some clear benefits from formal partnerships. The report highlighted the positive impact of federation on improvement in both provision and outcomes:
    in federations, where weaker schools had joined forces with stronger ones, the key areas of improvement were in teaching and learning, pupil behaviour and achievement;
  • those federations which had been set up to improve capacity among small schools had been successful in broadening and enriching the curriculum and care, guidance and support for pupils;
  • in the case of cross-phase federations, federation had resulted in stronger academic transition procedures between schools.