What are school partnerships?


School partnerships are arrangements that schools set up with other educational establishments with the aim of achieving established goals, e.g. developing more opportunities for pupils. Schools can benefit greatly from building partnerships, as they provide schools with a platform to offer experiences that otherwise may have not been possible.

Schools could partner with:

  • Universities
  • Other schools
  • Colleges

There are other third parties that schools could set up partnerships with – this will largely come down to schools’ individual environments and the opportunities that they provide. For example, coastal schools could establish a partnership with a marine life or beach conservation charity.


What can be achieved from partnerships?


Partnerships are completely individual – schools can set the objectives and aims of their partnerships, meaning they can be developed to suit the needs of individual schools.

Partnerships can also have many benefits in terms of learning opportunities for pupils and staff and raising schools’ reputations. 

The information outlined below includes just some of the areas in which schools can develop partnerships and the benefits that they can have. 




Developing partnerships that aim to improve teaching can bring the following benefits:

  • Taking part in national programmes, such as training STEM teachers
  • Providing CPD opportunities
  • Sharing teachers in shortage subjects
  • Cutting teachers’ workload by sharing lesson plans and resources

Teaching-focussed partnerships could include organising training days between schools, in which teachers with specialisms, for example in behaviour management, can deliver training to boost best practice.




Partnerships that aim to develop the curriculum can bring the following benefits:

  • Helping with curriculum design and delivery, such as lesson plans
  • Broadening the curriculum, such as forming mixed school classes for subjects such as languages and classics
  • Widening the curriculum offer, for example by making use of facilities at universities such as science labs
  • Organising attainment raising activities during school holidays, e.g. Summer schools

Curriculum-focussed partnerships could include developing projects, such as a Forest School, where schools aim to offer a richer curriculum and more extended services.




Leadership focussed partnerships could include the following:

  • Taking a leading role on the governing board of a school
  • Providing senior and strategic leadership support
  • Offering coaching and mentoring

Leadership orientated partnerships can have benefits such as ensuring a school has a more effective and skilled governing board or has access to a sector professional who can offer expert advice, e.g. a legal expert.


Targeted activities


Support tailored activities to meet schools’ specific needs such as the following:

  • Academic support and mentoring for young people applying or preparing for university
  • Working together through teaching school alliances
  • Working with LAs to open up opportunities to vulnerable children and LAC, such as offering boarding, day places or extra-curricular activities

Targeted activities can be developed to have many benefits, and will depend on the aims of the partnership.


Academy sponsor and free schools


The DfE encourages universities and independent schools with the capacity and capability to sponsor an academy or establish a free school.

Click here for guidance on how to sponsor an academy. More information on how to establish and develop an MAT is available here. There is also information available on how to open a free school.

Additionally, the DfE has produced guidance for universities on how to open a maths school.


How can partnerships be established?


Schools could identify which areas of their offering they would like to improve or widen and seek partnerships that fill this gap. Another approach is for schools to analyse the opportunities available to them, and then establish how certain partnerships could benefit the school.


Attracting potential partners


When looking for a partner, schools should market their school to drive interest in the partnership opportunities available.

Having a dedicated page on schools’ websites can be beneficial to driving interest – schools should keep this page updated and provide plenty of details pertaining to what the proposed partnership’s objectives and aims would be.

Schools could also ensure that they have a strong and friendly presence on social media, where they can promote the partnership opportunities.

Producing marketing material to promote opportunities in local newspapers, shops and social media pages can also be helpful for attracting potential partners.

Schools may find the resources available in our Marketing Your School topic helpful when it comes to attracting potential partners.


Approaching potential partners


Once schools have identified potential partners, they should establish how they will approach them.

A letter should be sent to the proposed partner school outlining the proposal, aims and benefits of the partnership. Both schools should meet to develop the partnership so that it is mutually beneficial.

Schools should make sure they are contacting the appropriate person in the organisation, e.g.  a school’s SBM.


School-school partnership models  


There are several set-ups that schools can take when setting up a partnership, such as:

  • Hub and spoke partnerships are where schools work together in a small group, of generally no more than four or five schools, where one school is the lead school.
  • Broad area partnerships are groups of schools that work together as equal partners.
  • Partnerships as part of other formal structures are where a lead sponsor may want to work with a group of partner schools to support a new or existing academy.


University-school partnerships


Published in 2017 by Universities UK, the ‘Raising attainment through university-school partnerships’ guidance outlines how universities are committed to improving social mobility, widening access to HE opportunities, and raising aspiration and attainment.

The guidance outlines several opportunities that are already available, such as The Children’s University. This opportunity recognises and rewards learning and activities that children take part in outside of normal school hours with credits, and once children receive 100 credits, they are invited to an awards ceremony.

Schools should research opportunities such as this one to establish what is available and how they can benefit pupils at their schools.


How can schools ensure their partnerships are effective?


Once partnerships have been established, make sure they’re effective by setting appropriate aims and objectives, developing a detailed and clear Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) and conducting monitoring and evaluation activities.


Setting aims and objectives


Everyone involved in the partnership should agree their aims and objectives and how they will achieve them. Together, the following should be decided:

  • The aims of the partnership
  • Who will be the project lead from each institution
  • What specific activities, year groups and subjects the partnership will cover
  • What measures will be used to monitor performance
  • How the outcomes and impact of the partnership will be measured
  • How the partnership will be evaluated, including what data will be used and how it will be shared and analysed
  • The form that the partnership will take, e.g. an MOU
  • How the partnership will be funded, if applicable

It is essential that objectives are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time bound (SMART), as this helps when it comes to measuring impact. Some examples of good objectives could include aiming to:

  • Improve educational outcomes for local pupils, e.g. in STEM subjects.
  • Strengthen the governance structures between the schools. 
  • Raise academic attainment.
  • Expand the curriculum offering by sharing teaching practices and resources, specifically those relating to modern foreign languages (MFL).


Memorandum of understanding


MOUs formalise the arrangements of a partnership; however, they are not legally binding. MOUs can have benefits such as giving clarity, providing opportunities to scrutinise and can be used as a tool for integrating the partnership into the strategy and ethos of the school. 

In the MOU, a mission statement should be included – ensure that this is concise so that it can be reproduced in documents and materials relating to the partnership.

A MOU should detail:

  • The aims and objectives of the partnership.
  • What the partnership’s planned activities are.
  • How the partnership will be monitored and evaluated.
  • Who the partnership leads are.
  • The governance and oversight arrangements of the partnership.
  • Any financial contribution arrangements.
  • How alterations and dissolutions will be managed.

Our model MOU includes guidance notes and examples throughout to ensure that schools are able to develop effective and clear MOUs.


Monitoring and evaluation


Schools should ensure they collect accurate and timely data about partnerships to make sure they’re achieving their objectives. With this data, schools should:

  • Adjust how they allocate time and resources in the short term to get the best outcomes.
  • Make decisions about future investments and strategies.

Schools should make sure that the following points are considered when they plan the partnership’s evaluation:

  • The partnership’s rationale, e.g. the scope of the evaluation and what the goals of the partnership are  
  • Timing and resources, e.g. the timescales for achieving the objectives outlined in the MOU
  • Feasibility and identifying data requirements, e.g. when the effects of the partnership will be measured and how evidence will be collected  
  • Standards and approaches, e.g. what tools will be used to show the effect of the partnership  
  • Ethics, e.g. if there are any ethical issues involved in collecting the data  
  • Consent and data security, e.g. determining whether consent has been given and if relevant parties have been informed about how their data will be used
  • Sharing findings, e.g. what the findings will be used for  




DfE (2018) ‘Guide to setting up partnerships’ < https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/setting-up-school-partnerships/guide-to-setting-up-partnerships> [Accessed: 22 March 2019]

DfE (2018) ‘Guide to writing a memorandum of understanding (MOU)’ < https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/setting-up-school-partnerships/guide-to-writing-a-memorandum-of-understanding-mou> [Accessed: 22 March 2019]

DfE (2018) ‘Partnership models guide’ < https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/setting-up-school-partnerships/partnership-models-guide> [Accessed: 22 March 2019]

Gadzik, S (2018) (Telephone conversation regarding developing partnerships) [Personal communication: 03 December 2018]

Universities UK (2017) ‘Raising attainment through university-school partnerships’ < https://www.universitiesuk.ac.uk/policy-and-analysis/reports/Pages/university-school-partnerships.aspx> [Accessed: 22 March 2019] 


Related terms: Collaboration, partner, liaise, join, share, merge.