How can the ideas in ‘The Missing 2000’ make our partnership projects more effective?

This piece, written by Tom Arbuthnott and Anushka Chakravarty, was the opening chapter to ‘The Missing 2000’, synthesising the best practice ideas which emerged from the publication.

If we replicate the projects in this volume across the country, we will begin to make a difference. However, we do understand that, for many schools and partnerships, there is a long way to go. While inter-school partnerships have enormous potential to improve practice across the educational commonwealth, many partnerships are only just starting out. Schools committed to partnership sit on a spectrum from ‘emerging’ to ‘established and sustainable’: but we are still learning how to move our cross-sector partnerships into the right hand column and beyond.

 Characteristics of ‘emerging’ partnershipsCharacteristics of ‘established and sustainable’ partnerships
LeadershipLed by teacherLed by senior leader / dedicated partnerships co-ordinator
PlanningReinventing the wheel with each new projectInformed by successful projects elsewhere
FinanceRun on a shoestringAware of funding sources and models
CoherenceFragmentedCohesive with clearly articulated goals
CommunicationNo time for communicationCommunicated to alumni, parents, students and potential donors in an organised way
Impact assessmentNot assessed for impactHigh quality and reflexive
SustainabilityOne offIterative and repeated
TargetingWorking with ‘state sector kids’Targeting pupils who really need support, e.g. SEND, the most able or pupil premium
Balance of the relationshipPerceived as patronageMutual and reciprocal

As we have put this pamphlet together, several themes have emerged which can support partnerships in living up to their potential.

  • Guideline #1. Seek to move from the ad hoc to the planned. Most partnership projects in the realm of widening participation start with an individual request involving an individual student, or the ‘opening up’ of an activity which is already being run in one school. These are welcome ways of beginning a partnership. However, to maximise the benefits of the partnership, we need to move to planned activity that reflects the needs of both partners in a spirit of mutuality and reciprocity.
  • Guideline #2. Target activities most closely on the students who really need our help. Those running partnership programmes (and, indeed, financial aid programmes) in independent schools need to become savvier about the tools that can be used to help us reach students who really need our help. It is telling that only 15% of the country’s AAA grades are achieved[1] by students from the 40% of postcodes which cover the country’s most disadvantaged areas. Common tools used include:
    • POLAR (Participation of Local Areas). This is a freely available index which uses a simple postcode check to identify how likely students in given postcodes are to go on to higher education. By repute, it is less reliable in London than outside: but is a useful guide, which is particularly easy to use. Go to https://www.officeforstudents.org.uk/data-and-analysis/young-participation-by-area/ (or google ‘POLAR data’) for more information.
    • Acorn. This is a more nuanced measure, used as a primary measure by Oxford University in terms of assessing disadvantage. Visit https://www.acorn.caci.co.uk/ for further details. This has a cost to it.
  • Guideline #3. Use a ‘theory of change’ in planning partnership projects, which seeks to articulate with complete clarity how the intervention is going to make a difference, and which plans a series of connected activities that work together to make that difference. ‘Theory of change’ projects conclude with a rigorous analysis of success, using clear indicators. Partnerships often start from a statement of the obvious (“it’s obviously a good idea to do this”) but do not often develop the skill of self-criticism (“it would have been even better if…”)
  • Guideline #4. It’s all about the relationships: they may take time to develop. Cold-calling, in partnership activities, rarely works. Without a relationship in place, school leaders are unlikely to authorise visits out of school; teachers will be unwilling to bring students (or will not make the most of activities that do go ahead); and students may be uncomfortable about visiting another school that they may have preconceptions about. Build relationships slowly and involve partner schools as much as possible at the planning phase of an intervention.
  • Guideline #5. Make sure the students feel comfortable. Children, particularly teenagers, perceive small differences very critically. Unless there is a clear goal (such as an Oxford and Cambridge interview process), they may not engage with partnership opportunities unless they are made to feel as welcome as possible. Schools must go the extra mile to make guests feel welcome. This particularly applies where visitors of the opposite sex come in to a single-sex school.
  • Guideline #6. Go further by embedding school-to-school relationships in ‘broad area partnerships.’ These partnerships are now springing up all over the country, linking state schools in formal structures with local independent schools, often on a model where all contribute an equal sum and steer the partnership collaboratively, often through the employment of a dedicated co-ordinator. This can provide the necessary shared ownership and reciprocity to design partnership activities that really make a difference. Examples are the Thames Valley Learning Partnership, launched in September 2019, the East Kent Schools Together Group or the York ISSP. Useful examples can be found at https://www.schoolstogether.org/formal-partnerships/.

Guideline #7. Seek to work with Oxford and Cambridge as well as other partners as ‘outreach hubs’. Once it is accepted that cross-sector partnerships can achieve national goals in this area, it becomes clear that independent schools can be central to the strategies being enumerated by the Office for Students, by Oxford and Cambridge colleges and by Russell Group universities. Independent schools can also be the centre of local ‘hubs’, which enable economies of scale to be developed in the planning and delivery of activities.


[1] https://www.admin.ox.ac.uk/media/global/wwwadminoxacuk/localsites/aad/documents/Report_of_the_Adex_Working_Group_on_Access_Targets.pdf

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