One year ago, six schools and a university in East Kent agreed to do together what we could not do alone.  A year into the partnership and over thirty events later, what have we learned?

This article has grown from a talk we gave twice to gratifyingly large audiences at the Schools Together Group conference in York in May 2018.  We were pleasantly surprised that so many schools were interested to see what can be achieved in a year and are delighted to share our experiences if it helps others considering doing something similar.

East Kent Schools Together aims to widen horizons and raise aspirations.  We do that through a programme of events for students and teachers, enabling them to learn from each other.  In one year, we’ve had over 30 events, from TeachMeets to swimming activities, teacher swaps to a partnership choir.

For students, it’s all about meeting new people and learning new skills – with the ultimate aim of improving confidence, resilience and well-being.  Students from state schools and independent schools rub shoulders together with university students and learn about each other’s challenges and aspirations. Barriers are broken, and expectations shifted.

We ask students what they will do that is new or different as a result of attending an event:

“I have a lot more confidence in my singing and will do more of it for fun”; “Be confident and not be scared to work with new people”; “I can now perform CPR on people”; “Socialise with other age groups”.

Teachers have built powerful networks across the region, with colleagues from state and independent sectors learning more from each other than perhaps they initially expected. Subject cluster groups have been established, sharing resources and good ideas, especially against the backdrop of new exam courses.

The feedback has been heartwarming, with one independent school teacher saying of his experience of swapping with a colleague in the state sector:

“I loved it, loved it, loved it – and I wasn’t expecting that!”

In preparing our talk for the York conference we drew out five key success factors.  There was a certain amount of luck and hindsight behind these, but we’re happy to share them anyway!

  1. Honesty and generosity from every partner about the gaps we’re looking to fill and the strengths we can share

Our Headteachers meet regularly to steer the direction of EKST.  Their openness from the start has set the tone for the whole partnership.  What can we do together that we cannot do on our own?  In a county with a selective education system, schools could be suspicious of working together, so their honesty has been refreshing.

  1. Clear aims from the start: stick to them and evaluate impact on the basis of them

Each partnership has different aims – they may be about academic attainment or enrichment.  For us, the aims of widening horizons and raising aspirations were agreed at the outset.  These are not easy things to measure but it’s essentialto know if we are making an impact.  Every event is evaluated, with focus groups adding feedback over the whole year.

  1. Ensure buy-in and commitment from all partners: written agreement, organizational & funding structure

We are largely self-funded through a levy from each partner which pays for our Coordinator (the main – and most important – expense).  We have a Management Group which meets 6 times a year to decide on the programme of events; this comprises two Partnership Champions from each school/university.  There’s a Finance Group which oversees fund-raising and how the money is being spent.

  1. Flexibility, openness to ideas and opportunities, including from students and potential associate partners, local events

Our Student Voice is important to us; they have proposed – and then helped to organize – several of the events so far.  As we’ve become established in the community, local organisations that share our aims want to work with us and support what we are doing so we are developing Associate Partnerships.

  1. Drivers: key people, including a Coordinator, keeping lines of communication flowing

Anyone who has been involved with inter-school collaborations will know how difficult communications can be, especially across a whole region and with different timetables and term dates.  Our wonderful Coordinator, Sarah Moir, keeps us all on track!  My fellow speakers at York (see below) have been enthusiastic drivers of the partnership too.

If you’ve found this useful or have ideas to add, please get in touch: www.EKST.org, or follow us on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@EKSTpartnership

For more partnership dos and don’ts, visit: http://www.astinconsulting.com/thinking-of-setting-up-an-independent-state-school-partnership-these-10-dos-and-donts-might-help/

With thanks to Nicky Mattin, Principal of Spires Academy, and Kerry Jordan-Daus, Head of Partnerships at Canterbury Christ Church University who spoke with me at the Schools Together Group conference.