For many years, there has been pressure on independent schools to do more in meaningful partnership with maintained sector schools. Yet for many independent schools, close working with local state schools for the benefit of all pupils, is deeply embedded in their mission.

Well-established partnership working exists across the UK, already making a positive difference to the lives of the nation’s children - and we should be proud of this. A typical school in one of the ISC associations has only a few hundred pupils, so there is a range of capacity for partnership working. Projects can involve large numbers of pupils at one end of the spectrum and be tailored for specific cohorts at the other. They include sharing subject specialism expertise and school facilities. More resource-heavy examples see independent schools taking part in London Academy of Excellence-model group sponsorship of academies or building bridges across larger areas to form city or region-wide partnerships.

The ISC recommends that schools engage in cross-sector collaborations for a variety of reasons:

To support their public benefit aims and activity

To demonstrate civic duty and strengthen community links

To broaden the horizons of pupils

To enrich the educational offer

To achieve economies of scale by spreading resource

"Schools joined the fightback against coronavirus by producing PPE and providing beds for key workers."

There is a joint understanding with the government stating that independent schools will encourage increasing cross-sector partner working in a range of ways (according to their capability and capacity). The ISC has developed a website www.schoolstogether.org to showcase and inspire partnerships and our annual Celebrating Partnerships booklet provides a snapshot of partnerships across the sector. These are accompanied by a social media campaign to raise awareness using the hashtags #schoolstogether and #powerofpartnerships.

There is an active group of practitioners sharing advice and supporting the development of partnerships, which can be contacted through the Schools Together website. The DfE also provides advice and support materials about setting up an effective project, finding partners and undertaking impact evaluation.

Partnership work has continued despite the Covid-19 crisis in 2020, with independent schools offering online learning opportunities, sharing remote teaching expertise and resources, running summer holiday programmes for partner schools and developing ongoing “catch-up” initiatives. We have also seen community partnerships playing a valuable role this year. Schools joined the fightback against coronavirus by producing PPE, providing beds for key workers who needed accommodation away from their families, donating to foodbanks and running food deliveries for those sheltering or isolating.

"One partnership project, which helps prepare young people for higher education, became a virtual school."

Across the country, we have seen many examples of schools adapting partnership activity in response to coronavirus disruption as well as embarking on new projects. Norwich School redeveloped its University Summer School for Year 12 pupils from across Norfolk into an online format. The partnership project, which helps prepare young people for higher education, became a virtual school. It saw 40 Year 12 pupils from 16 schools take part in four days of online lectures and webinars. Overall, 56 seminars were delivered totalling 84 hours of teaching – and the support is ongoing.

York Independent State School Partnership (ISSP) is an equal partnership of 13 schools - 10 state/academy schools and three independent schools. Projects include supporting able young mathematicians, running summer schools, hosting strategy meetings for headteachers and delivering GCSE astronomy and Latin lessons to pupils who would not otherwise have access to these subjects. Much of the current programme of events has moved to remote learning to ensure minimal disruption to these valuable educational opportunities during the pandemic.

In London, Latymer Upper School took steps to help bridge digital divides by negotiating a deal with mobile network EE and distributing dongles, pre-loaded with three months of data, to pupils at its partner schools to ensure they could access remote learning and pastoral support online during the lockdown.

"This is work of which schools can be rightly proud."

A number of independent schools organised Covid-secure summer courses this year, which were specifically designed to help local pupils catch up on their education. This is an area of partnership work that remains high on the agenda of schools, as they look to maintain efforts to respond to the impact of coronavirus on education.

This is work of which schools can be rightly proud and demonstrates the value of independent schools in supporting the widening of educational opportunity. In this difficult era of Covid, Brexit and recession, it is all the more important that we work together to provide positive experiences and support for the nation’s children.