Independent state school partnerships (ISSPs): an exploration of partnership enactment

Lead Research Organisation: King's College London
Department Name: Education and Professional Studies


In 1997 the Labour government charged independent schools with sharing their facilities and their teachers with local state maintained schools (DFEE, 1997). The first 'independent state school partnerships' (ISSPs) were centrally funded the following year, and by 2017 the Independent Schools Council reported that 88% of its schools were involved in some form of partnership with schools in the maintained sector (ISC, 2017ii). Although ISSPs have existed for over twenty years, published accounts are mainly progress reports or evaluations (Sharp et al, 2001; Ofsted, 2005; Armstrong, 2015). In one more analytical exploration, Lucas et al (2017), conducted a 'rapid review of the extent of current [ISSP] activity and the existence of any evidence of impact' (p4) in 2017, which revealed that partnerships can bring significant benefits for pupils, teachers and schools; such as opportunities for 'academic learning', sharing 'best practice' and access to facilities (p16).

This study explores these partnerships; what they are; how they are understood by the different participants; how power relations shape them; what is claimed for them and what costs and gains, both tangible and intangible, are involved in enacting them across different types of schools. It investigates the nature of ISSPs and their enactment in practice, considering their impact on state and independent school leaders, teachers, pupils and their schools. It explores the ways in which collaborative work and partnership is actually 'done' in ISSPs and seeks to uncover the 'jumbled, messy, contested, creative and mundane social interactions... (and) negotiations and coalition building' (Ball, et al. 2012: 2) that make up the process of doing policy in schools.

Through the theoretical lens of social exchange theory (Homans, 1958; Emerson, 1976), the study considers the 'worth' of partnerships - the balance of the perceived benefits less their costs, and seeks to build a deeper holistic picture of their impact. It also uses policy enactment theory (Ball et al, 2012: 3), that is, 'the abstractions of policy ideas into contextualized practices' to explore power distribution and different forms of teacher investment in these partnerships. Through interviewing school leaders, as well as those actively involved in partnership activities, this research investigates empirically how teachers understand partnership, claims about the benefits and costs of partnership to all schools involved, to contribute to the ongoing national debate about how schools in different sectors can work together most effectively.

With increasing government interest in, and commitment to, cross-sector collaboration, and given the regular concerns about their charitable status, governments have looked to independent schools to do more to broker partnerships with the state maintained sector (DfE, 2016; ISC, 2016ii). These ISSPs are in the vanguard of policy and it is both timely and important to question their significance, their role and their effectiveness.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
ES/P000703/1 30/09/2017 29/09/2027
2104311 Studentship ES/P000703/1 30/09/2017 28/02/2021 Margaret Hunnaball