Topic briefing

Strategic relationships with schools and raising attainment

Published 27 July 2020

Effective practice advice

Successful and strategic partnerships between higher education providers and schools can be developed in the following ways:

1. Embed the five factors for successful and sustainable partnerships

The School-University Partnerships report identified five key factors for creating successful and sustainable partnerships:

  1. All partners, including the university or college and school, should have an equal voice.
  2. Both organisations should identify a strategic leader to drive the project forward.
  3. Both organisations should have a strategic, relevant plan.
  4. A ‘third space’, away from the cultural values of either organisation, should be created.
  5. Material resources and funding strategies should be developed.

2. Follow guidance on setting up formal and sustainable partnerships

The Department for Education has published a guide to support schools and providers to set up sustainable partnerships.

It emphasises the importance of partnerships entering into formal agreements, with clearly-defined objectives, and identifies areas where schools and providers can collaborate:

Providers can support schools by:

  • taking part in national programmes, such as training science, technology, engineering and maths teachers
  • providing continuing professional development
  • sharing teachers in subjects where there are shortages
  • cutting teachers’ workload by sharing lesson plans and resources.

Providers can support schools by:

  • helping with curriculum design and delivery, such as lesson plans
  • broadening the curriculum in subjects such as languages and classics or making use of facilities at higher education providers such as science labs
  • organising attainment-raising activities in school holidays.

Providers can support schools by:

  • taking a leading role on the governing body of a school
  • providing senior and strategic leadership support
  • offering coaching and mentoring.

Providers can support schools by:

  • providing academic support and mentoring for young people applying or preparing for university
  • working with local authorities to open up opportunities to vulnerable and looked after children, such as offering boarding, day places or extra-curricular activities.

3. Work with third sector organisations

Providers can work with third sector organisations to deliver raising attainment programmes in schools and colleges.

As an example, The Brilliant Club runs a Scholars Programme where doctoral and postdoctoral researchers deliver university-style tutorials to 10-18 year-olds in state schools. This is supplemented by two university trips.

4. Embed the Gatsby benchmarks

Higher education providers can support schools and colleges to work towards the Gatsby benchmarks – a framework of eight guidelines that define the best careers provision in schools and colleges. Gatsby benchmark 7 states:

‘All pupils should understand the full range of learning opportunities that are available to them. This includes both academic and vocational routes and learning in schools, colleges, universities and in the workplace.’

There is some evidence which shows that improving careers guidance, such as the Gatsby benchmarks, can increase attainment in GCSEs.

5. Sponsor or establish a school

It could be beneficial for a provider to sponsor a school to work together to support improved learner outcomes or to better understand the school’s student population and undertake more targeted interventions.

Where a provider sponsors an academy or establishes a free school or mathematics school, it is important to be clear on:

  • what outcomes it is aiming to achieve
  • which groups are being targeted
  • how it aligns with their access and participation plan
  • how its effectiveness will be measured.

The Department for Education’s guide includes advice on how to sponsor an academy or establish a free school.

The Confederation of School Trusts also provides guidance and frameworks for governance and assurance of schools.

6. Establish governor networks and programmes

Supporting the governance of local schools and colleges and encouraging staff and alumni to volunteer to become governors can be an effective way to drive systematic change.

For example, the University of Manchester has a longstanding staff and alumni school governor initiative. The university recently conducted an impact study showing that if all universities in England and Wales adopted the initiative, they could fill more than 10 per cent of the current nationwide school governor vacancies.

Governors for Schools provides information and examples of different school governor initiatives.

Published 27 July 2020

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