Building a sustainable partnership for continued science success.
Published: 5 December 2023
The School Partnerships programme offers five years of funding, support, opportunities and teacher CPD to schools that are committed to working together to enhance physics teaching and learning. In 2023, we welcomed 25 new partnerships into the programme and the Trust is now inviting applications for partnerships starting in September 2024.
Teacher CPD and raising students’ science capital and career aspirations are at the heart of the School Partnerships programme; partnership funding for enrichment and extra-curricular activities adds another dimension to the teaching and learning of physics, encouraging learners to take physics further.
But what happens at the end of the five years when the full funding has finished? How do you sustain the connections that have been made, and keep building on the foundations established during your partnership?
The Solihull Partnership was formed in 2015 and is now in its eighth year and legacy phase. This year, teachers and headteachers involved in the partnership have spoke to evaluation consultant Dr Alison Rivett to share their thoughts, advice and lessons learned.
What does a successful legacy partnership look like?
The Solihull Partnership comprises 14 schools which are a mixture of infant, junior and primary establishments located near to each other in and around the borough of Solihull, on the edge of Birmingham. St Alphege Juniors is the hub school, with Science Leader Emily Fryer as partnership co-ordinator. All the schools, bar one, are part of the Solihull Local Authority’s Synergy Network, which connects subject leaders across the borough.
The partnership still meets three times a year to network, exchange ideas, share good practice and plan activities. Since their full grant finished in Year 5, the partnership has received a small amount of legacy funding (£250) each year. This continues to fund one or two low-cost activities, such as the annual science fair and a family learning evening or a hands-on workshop for one year group. These events are well-established, especially the science fair, which is seen as a prestigious event by schools. Events usually involve families too, or are run online, so expensive organised transport is not required. At the science fair, teachers deliver a circus of low-cost activities, parents bring groups of children and the pupils judge each other’s entries, keeping expenditure to a minimum.
Other enrichment activities which started during the partnership’s funded phase, such as family science projects, have now been incorporated into regular Science Week activities. Schools continue to get involved in various STEM initiatives and a number have been inspired to achieve a Primary Science Quality Mark (PSQM). One school is leading on an application for an ENTHUSE Partnership to boost CPD provision for the group. Science ambassadors are embedded throughout all the schools, a highly successful consequence of the Phiz Lab set up at St Alphege Juniors.
The Phizzi resources are still used across schools and year groups. Importantly, partnership teachers say the learning from those sessions has been shared with colleagues and is fully integrated into practice:
“Teachers regularly use Ogden Trust resources (the physical kit, booklets with investigations and website) to deliver science lessons. They are really useful resources which are used by all staff. The Phizzi cards [Science Talk] that were created for the foundation stage and the associated training that went with them are excellent and loved by our early years team.”
The partnership periodically reviews the Phizzi boxes during meetings, sharing updates and new ideas for using them in teaching. Teachers, particularly new science leads, take advantage of any Phizzi CPD sessions on offer, in order to familiarise themselves with the kit their school has, or to refresh their knowledge.
What impact has belonging to an Ogden partnership had on the schools in it?
Teachers say that being part of the partnership undoubtedly raises the awareness of science within their schools. Emily believes enrichment activities don’t just inspire the children:
“I think they raise the profile, so it increases their science capital. Particularly things like the virtual family learning evenings that we’ve had, and especially with the science fair when families are working together at home on a project. Parents are definitely more aware of science due to all the different enrichment activities the school does.”
As a result of the annual Phizzi CPD training sessions, teachers across the partnership are more confident and skilled in their science teaching. Emily says the benefits were seen more widely “because it wasn’t the science lead that necessarily went, it could be a teacher that needed help with that area of science. So the Phizzi CPD units really helped with their confidence.”
Over the years the partnership has developed into a mutually supportive network. The development and peer support aspects are valued by all teachers attending, but particularly by new or inexperienced subject leaders, with one commenting: “It is great to gain any new ideas and keep refreshing information. It’s good to work together and know there are people to help and share ideas with.” Interest in attending meetings and participating in activities has grown and schools outside of the Synergy Network have joined.
Through the process of being partnership co-ordinator, Emily has developed personally and professionally. Her existing enthusiasm for sharing science, which was fuelled early on by an inspiring visit to CERN, has been complemented by an increased confidence in leading science. She has led on the development and piloting of a new Phizzi Curriculum at St Alphege and her headteacher observes that:
“Being part of the Ogden partnership has strengthened our Science Leader’s understanding of science subject knowledge and has raised the profile of science across the whole school. It helps ensure that science is intrinsically built into the school’s identity and has enabled us to keep abreast of current thinking and practice in this area of the curriculum.”
What are the underlying reasons for this partnership’s continued success?
A key reason for this partnership’s continuing existence is the Synergy Network structure. Science leads from all schools are expected to attend meetings and this helps integrate new representatives. With headteachers and senior leaders also meeting through that network, there is wider awareness amongst SLTs of partnership activity and a better understanding of the value it brings to schools, teachers and pupils.
Schools are generally very supportive, as one partnership teacher notes: “our partnership is not just science but a collaboration between schools in all curriculum areas. Our schools ensure we have time termly to meet up and share our thoughts and ideas and work towards shared goals.” This includes allowing time for the co-ordinator to organise the partnership’s annual science fair, encouraging science leaders to work towards PSQM, and supporting the ENTHUSE bid.
Fundamental to this partnership’s longevity is Emily’s consistent, long-term leadership and great motivation to share her love of science with pupils and colleagues. As an experienced co-ordinator, she understands the need to share the planning and delivery of events with other teachers. She is a keen advocate for the partnership amongst senior leaders and can articulate its impact.
Partnership in numbers
Over 8 years the Phizzi CPD and associated classroom resources have benefitted approximately 51,000 pupils aged 2-11 across the 14 schools. More than 27,000 children have participated in around 30 enrichment events or experienced a visit to the partnership’s Phiz Lab.
What factors help to sustain partnerships after funding ends?
A small amount of money can enable at least one low-cost, but high-profile annual event, which provides a focal point for partnership activity. Whilst this provides the main reason for meeting regularly, there is a huge amount of added benefit arising from the peer-support aspect, as Emily describes:
“We always have that time at the end for anyone to share or ask for support. The new people that are coming, they haven’t got that experience, they just need advice, and the partnership helps to link experienced science leads with teachers new to the role.”
Being able to access ongoing support from the Ogden Regional Representative (Jenny Watson, also a local PSQM Hub Leader) has helped to maintain the Ogden link and identity of the Solihull Partnership. Jenny regularly attends partnership meetings and her teaching ideas, subject knowledge, expert advice, contacts, activity support and workshop delivery are all highly valued. Teachers comment that the “networking opportunities provided by being part of the partnership and being able to access the expertise of Jenny Watson” is something which keeps them involved, saying “she has been an incredible support through all our Ogden Trust partnership activities and also our PSQM award process.”
The Solihull Partnership has successfully continued as an active group by maximising the value of their funding and providing a supportive network for teachers. Importantly, they have the backing of senior leaders including the headteacher at St Alphege, who understand that by supporting Emily and the Solihull Partnership “we strengthen science provision and help to inform our practice as a school, whilst also supporting the broader community development”.
What elements and learning could apply to other partnerships?
If you are planning for your legacy phase, or looking at the foundations you want to build into your partnership during your funding this list provides some useful ideas to consider.
- Focus on low cost but high-profile activities, which can involve large numbers of pupils across year groups, happen regularly, and are arranged well in advance. Planning these provides a reason to meet.
- Use planning meetings as time to exchange ideas between schools, share good teaching practice and/or discuss new guidance and initiatives.
- When new or inexperienced science leads attend, make sure there is something for them to gain with regards to the teaching, learning, planning, or leadership of science in their own school.
- Involve families with activities and events to boost awareness, engagement and support.
- Base activities at enrichment events on Phizzi boxes to maximise their value.
- Revisit the Phizzi boxes regularly and consider providing ‘in-house’ Phizzi CPD for new teachers. Subject knowledge is easily lost and resources can get muddled up with other equipment if the information is not properly handed over.
- Build links with other local initiatives eg. PSQM hubs, PSTT clusters, or an ENTHUSE partnership.
- Gain the support of headteachers and SLTs across the partnership by advocating within schools, perhaps even attending or presenting at network meetings for headteachers to highlight benefits.
The 14 schools in the Solihull Partnership are a mixture of infant, junior and primary establishments located near to each other in and around the borough of Solihull, on the edge of Birmingham. St Alphege Juniors is the Hub school, with Science Leader Emily Fryer as partnership coordinator. All the schools, bar one, are part of the Solihull Local Authority’s Synergy Network, which connects subject leaders across the borough.
Apply now to form a partnership
If you are interested in forming a new partnership, expressions of interest need to completed by 1 February 2024. A Q&A webinar will be held in the new year should any teachers need help to complete the application process. (A Teams invitation will be sent to anyone with an open application). We also have a team of regional reps across England who can advise local schools on their application.
If your Expression of Interest is approved following the review process, formative partnerships will be supported through an induction phase ready to begin at the start of the new academic year. You can find details of the full application process here.