Partnership Working in Small Rural Primary Schools: The Best of Both Worlds

Kelly Kettlewell, Robert Hill, Jane Salt

29 May 2014

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CfBT Education Trust commissioned Robert Hill and NFER to investigate the most effective ways for small rural primary schools to work together in order to improve provision and raise standards. The research examined the circumstances and context of small rural schools in Lincolnshire and evaluated their different leadership models to: identify successful approaches to collaboration likely to have a positive impact on pupil achievement; identify barriers to successful collaborative models; understand the role of the local authority in enabling effective partnership; place the Lincolnshire approach in the context of approaches being adopted in other areas in England and best practice in partnership as identified in research literature; and identify issues and recommendations for policymakers to consider.

The methodology included seven focus group with staff from small Lincolnshire primary schools, four case studies of schools and analysis of secondary data.

Key Findings

  • Lessons for schools related to the need to build on existing relationships and the importance of geographically-focused partnerships, the importance of leadership (including strong headteacher relationships, clear governance arrangements, focusing any dedicated resources on leadership or project management, and the role of middle leaders), the need for clear action planning, monitoring and evaluation, the importance of focusing on teaching and learning within partnerships, and the importance of multi-partnership working.
  • Lessons for local authorities included the need to provide a clear vision for the future and to reinforce a partnership strategy through other policies, to support communication across schools and partnerships, to ensure flexibility in structural arrangements (but encourage movement towards structured arrangements) and recognise that partnerships with evolve with time, to foster partnership depth, expand the use of executive headship and identify headteachers to champion the strategy, to ensure that ring-fenced resources focus on providing some dedicated leadership and insist on schools agreeing on measures of progress and success.
  • Lessons for policy makers related to the need for a clear and consistent vision for primary schools (including reinforcing the strategy of cluster working and recognising that partnerships within schools will develop on different levels, the importance of communicating the value of partnerships and the balancing of the accountability regime within schools), the affirmation of the role of local authorities in the growth of partnerships and the encouragement of the development of cross-church/community school partnerships, and the importance of strong leadership (including the development of executive leaders, encouraging governors to work and train together, and the importance of evaluation of impact).
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