Partnerships in practice: a secondary perspective
Headteacher insight into school partnerships and how they can support recruitment, retention and results.
Published: 15 September 2023
Partnerships are a fantastic way for schools to share their strengths and work together to improve their support for teachers, their opportunities for students and their facilities. When done well, partnerships can be a huge time saver and provide rich rewards for all involved. However, there is an ongoing struggle for schools to join partnerships and make the most of the opportunities they can provide. The Ogden Trust has been supporting school science partnerships for more than 15 years and we spoke to some of our partnership school headteachers to understand the barriers and how they make it work.
Time is always at a premium in schools, with teachers under increasing work pressures. We know that time is key in setting up a successful partnership and it is important to have space carved out to communicate and to ensure a clear plan of action. With a national shortage of physics teachers, it can be hard to release a physics specialist from timetable to effectively take part in developing a partnership. School leaders are key to ensuring partnership working is prioritised and gets the space and time it needs in busy work schedules.
Michael McKenzie, Headteacher at Alexandra Park School in London, notes the impact of their partnership on staff retention, seeing an increase from one or two specialist physics teachers to seven over the duration of their partnership. They used the partnership to become known for their physics outreach work, enabling teachers to have varied job roles and creating a thriving department. Although this can cost more, Michael feels it is “a small price compared to the annual problem [they] used to have with recruitment, retention and results.” A leadership focus on the long-term benefits over the short-term problems of releasing teachers is a key feature in successful partnerships.
Partnerships can provide professional support for teachers; whether that is support for early career and non-specialist teachers, or opportunities for teachers to develop experience of leadership for the first time. Partnerships share best practice, improving pedagogy and enrichment and sharing subject enhancement opportunities. This, in turn, provides a support network with access to a wider national pool of peers and experts, thereby creating a professional community of practice.
Katie Houghton, Head of School at Didsbury High, agrees: “our Ogden partnership has meant that our non-physic specialists have really been able to thrive in the physics world through Dan’s [Didsbury Partnership Co-ordinator] guiding and coaching as he leads the partnership, they feel really confident in teaching physics which I know is something that not all science teams across the city or across the country can say. The Ogden partnership CPD has helped us to create better schemes of work which means that the pedagogy is at the top of the game really and absolutely outstanding.”
Partnerships can also have a positive impact on the transition between primary and secondary which can be a challenging time as pupils arrive in Year 7 with different levels of science knowledge from their previous schools. Inter-phase partnerships can make the process much smoother for students. Alexandra Park runs a partnership with their feeder primary schools and Michael says this has “strengthened relationships with our local primaries and supported learners arriving with us, [who are] more engaged with science and have less misconceptions.” He also notes that his secondary teachers benefit from understanding the primary curriculum better and the progression within the subject.
An outward facing school, that embraces partnership working and has the full support of SLT benefits from the many positive effects of partnerships in practice, such as improved teacher confidence, agency and local community support and collaboration. They can also benefit from increased teacher recruitment opportunities, with teachers keen to join a thriving, vibrant community of science practitioners, and better retention as teachers choose to stay at a school where they gain greater fulfilment from a more varied role within a positive partnership environment. Better communication and understanding between phases and schools also has the potential to improve results.
While time is always under pressure, particularly in shortage subjects such as physics, the headteachers we have worked with show that the long-term benefits of allowing teachers to spend that time on building partnerships is worth it.
Ogden school partnerships
The Ogden School Partnerships programme provides five years of funding, support and CPD for schools who want to work together to enhance the teaching and learning of physics. Applications for new partnerships open each year between September and February.