What is a School Partnership?

School partnerships are strong alliances or affiliations either between two or more schools, or schools and organisations.

These partnerships can be formal or informal, and help all educational settings benefit by sharing their knowledge, experience and resources, so that they can provide better learning outcomes for their students.

Over the years, data has shown considerable positive benefits that come from universities, independent and state-funded secondary and primary schools coming together to share in mutual beneficial partnerships.

Some connections can be established between schools themselves, or they may choose to work with an educational body or provider who can help them find like-minded schools to work with.

The UK government highly encourages sustainable and reciprocal partnerships for schools in any one of the following areas:

  • Teaching (taking part in national programmes; providing continuing professional development; sharing lesson plans and resources etc)
  • Curriculum (sharing resources; widening the curriculum offer or organising activities for the school holidays)
  • Leadership (providing senior and strategic leadership support)
  • Targeted activities (such as academic support and mentoring; teaching school alliances or working with local authorities to open up opportunities for vulnerable children).
Primary children in classroom

Different Types of Partnerships for Schools

International School Partnerships

International school partnerships are almost like a friendship or ‘sisterhood’ created between two schools in different parts of the world. The partnership extends to expanding and improving education and career opportunities in both settings, through various cultural awareness projects, student exchange programmes and pedagogy exchanges.

Through a close, committed, ongoing relationship, schools can hope to not only provide fascinating global opportunities for their students, but also improve their own policies and teaching approaches to benefit the whole school community.

Children playing sports together

Image from Merton School Sport Partnership

School Sports Partnerships

School sports partnerships are those created between ‘families’ of schools or academy trusts working together to increase the quality and quantity of PE and sports opportunities for young people in a given area.

They were originally one strand of the previous Labour Government’s Physical Education, School Sport and Club Links (PESSCL) Strategy, launched in 2002. However, many school sport partnerships still exist today and have been found to have positive benefits on students, such as increased physical activity and more opportunities for socialising and community building.

Though funding for sport partnerships ended in 2011, schools were able to continue the partnerships they created with their own funding if they wished. Additional funding for school sport was also introduced by the Coalition Government in 2013/14.

University School Partnerships

Partnerships between schools and universities are intended to allow teachers and university researchers to work together to bring cutting-edge developments into the classroom.

By bringing new research into formal and informal learning contexts, they also aim to inspire future generations, reach secondary school students from a range of backgrounds and abilities, and provide researchers with opportunities to engage with secondary school students.

University-school partnerships are supported and established by various bodies, including the NCCP (National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement). However many universities work independently to proactively encourage their own school connections.

How to Create a Partnership for your School

1. Appoint a strong leader

Successful projects and partnerships are nearly always formed as a result of enthusiastic school leaders, who see an opportunity and are committed to bringing about the best outcomes for all.

It’s therefore important that whoever is responsible for leading the partnership is genuinely passionate about it, and has a long-term vision for where it could lead.

2. Reach out to neighbouring schools

One of the best ways to start is to contact other schools in your area to discuss ideas. School contact details can be found on the government website get information about schools, as well as on the Independent Schools Council (ISC) website ISC school search, which can be used to find ISC independent schools.

The Department for Education’s System Partnerships Unit has also released information for schools and universities on sharing expertise and resources to improve educational outcomes. Take a look at the government’s resources or contact them at system.partnerships@education.gov.uk.

3. Look at what others are doing already

How to start a school partnership

Another great way to get inspired is to look at existing school partnerships to see what others are doing. You might wish to join in an existing partnership, or come up with a new idea for your school. Take a look at the Schools Together Best Practice section for some useful ideas.

4. Enlist the help of experts

There are several qualified organisations dedicated to helping schools forge strong, mutually beneficial partnerships. If you’re not sure where to start or don’t feel comfortable reaching out to others directly, then registering with one of the below organisations could be your first step.

School Partnership Providers

Below are some national and international bodies with which to find a variety of school partnerships, depending on your end goals.

TEP Sister School Partnerships – Partner with a school in China and open the door to incredible cultural benefits and experiences. Engage in joint projects online, host Chinese pupils from your sister school and embark on a life-changing trip to China.

Global School Alliance – Our Global School Alliance is another platform with which we help to connect schools from all around the world. Members can engage in online Global Joint Projects with other schools and access the Learning Unleashed online platform for communication, collaboration and free e-learning courses & resources for students.

Schools Online – Run by the British Council, Schools Online helps schools discover potential partners online and get free resources to help their partnerships flourish.

Connecting Classrooms – Another programme by the British Council, Connecting Classrooms offers support to establish and sustain a link with a school in another part of the world.

NCCP School University Partnership Initiative – The National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement (NCCPE) was appointed to co-ordinate the SUPI network, providing support for the projects and drawing together learning from across the programme.

5. Formalise your partnership for the best outcomes


The Government’s guide to setting up school partnerships strongly encourages partner schools to formalise their arrangements in order to clarify the activities and benefits for all involved. Evidence suggests that partnerships that enter into a formal agreement tend to be better formed and more sustainable. You can use its template memorandum of understanding (MOU) and guidance to help you do this.

A clearly defined set of objectives should reflect the needs of everyone involved and may include:

  • The aims of the partnership
  • Who will be the project lead from each institution
  • Specific activities, year groups and subjects the partnership will cover
  • How performance (including impact and outcomes) of the partnership will be monitored
  • the form of your partnership agreement, such as through a memorandum of understanding (MOU)
  • How the partnership will be funded
  • Various deadlines by which to achieve certain goals of the partnership.
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