Independent state school partnerships (ISSPs): a critical exploration of partnership enactment
In 1997 the Labour government charged independent schools with sharing their facilities and their teachers with local state maintained schools (DFEE, 1997). The first ‘independent state school partnerships’ (ISSPs) were centrally funded the following year, and by 2017 the Independent Schools Council reported that 88% of its schools were involved in some form of partnership with schools in the maintained sector (ISC, 2017ii). Although ISSPs have existed for over twenty years, published accounts are mainly progress reports or evaluations (Sharp et al, 2001; Ofsted, 2005; Armstrong, 2015). In one more analytical exploration, Lucas et al (2017), conducted a ‘rapid review of the extent of current [ISSP] activity and the existence of any evidence of impact’ (p4) in 2017, which revealed that partnerships can bring significant benefits for pupils, teachers and schools; such as opportunities for ‘academic learning’, sharing ‘best practice’ and access to facilities (p16).This study explores these partnerships; what they are; how they are understood by the different participants; how power relations shape them; what is claimed for them and what costs and gains, both tangible and intangible, are involved in enacting them across different types of schools. It investigates the nature of ISSPs and their enactment in practice, considering their impact on state and independent school leaders, teachers, pupils and their schools. It explores the ways in which collaborative work and partnership is actually ‘done’ in ISSPs and seeks to uncover the ‘jumbled, messy, contested, creative and mundane social interactions… (and) negotiations and coalition building’ (Ball, et al. 2012: 2) that make up the process of doing policy in schools.With increasing government interest in, and commitment to, cross-sector collaboration, and given the regular concerns about their charitable status, governments have looked to independent schools to do more to broker partnerships with the state maintained sector (DfE, 2016; ISC, 2016ii). These ISSPs are in the vanguard of policy and it is both timely and important to question their significance, their role and their effectiveness.
6 – Education, Mind & Society