The Department for Children, Schools and Families is achieving its aim of promoting partnering in secondary education in England, according to a report today by the National Audit Office. Some 87 per cent of schools work with other schools and organisations on improving attainment and behaviour – and headteachers are clear that partnering is delivering very substantial benefits that support school improvement. But partnering has yet to realise its full potential.
It is difficult to demonstrate a direct, quantifiable impact of partnering but the NAO does find evidence that partnering has wider benefits. Headteachers told the NAO that partnerships are a valuable tool for improving standards and that they had positive outcomes beyond the impact on pupils’ test results, such as sharing resources, energizing teachers and broadening the curriculum. However, schools with better attaining 11 to 14 year olds, with fewer problems with pupil behaviour, and with a relatively small proportion of pupils receiving free school meals are less likely to be working in partnerships than other schools. These schools could do more to share their expertise with and to support other schools in their locality.
The spending watchdog also concludes that, at local level, there is greater scope to evaluate the costs and benefits of individual partnerships. Without such evaluation, there is a risk that some partnerships will continue while the costs outweigh the benefits. Among schools involved in partnerships, the NAO’s analysis did not demonstrate a link between how partnerships are managed and school improvement. The NAO therefore recommends that – except where there is a good reason otherwise – partnerships should have the freedom to tailor the form and management of partnerships to fit their local circumstances.
Isolating the specific costs of partnering is difficult, but the NAO estimates that in 2007-08 the Department spent at least £400 million on initiatives that feature partnering. This is around 2.5 per cent of the amount spent nationally on secondary education.