The beautiful city of Lincoln is the location of not one but two TEF Gold standard universities: The University of Lincoln and Bishop Grosseteste University. This good fortune has provided students and staff at half a dozen state and independent Lincoln schools with the chance to develop enriching, innovative and rewarding partnerships with the universities to their great benefit.

In a 2014 research paper Fulfilling the Potential, Professor Toby Greany reviews the rapidly changing educational landscape and considers the implications for school-university partnership working. The school-led system in England has significantly reduced the role of Local Authorities and universities and schools are increasingly involved in commercial relationships in areas such as initial teacher education.

Universities wrestle with how to balance the books and position themselves in a marketised system, the consequence of rising tuition fees, the removal of the student number cap and diminishing research budgets. These imperatives have placed budgets for partnership in peril.

In the six years since the publication of the paper, there is little evidence that the eagerness of schools and universities to forge strong links with each other has been translated into effective and wide-ranging partnerships. However, in Lincoln, the proximity of the two universities to school locations has brought very significant mutual benefits over the last three to four years.

"Students’ UCAS applications benefit from the guidance offered by visiting academics."

At one nearby school, sixth form students can enrol at the University of Lincoln, gaining access to the library and its online resources. They draw on the advice and experience of research graduates and university staff when working on their Extended Projects. This has contributed to high quality studies on such themes as Proton Beam Therapy as a form of treating cancer.

University staff visit the local schools to present their work and students have the opportunity to attend undergraduate lectures and events. Students’ UCAS applications benefit from the guidance offered by visiting academics in mock interviews and the construction of applications. There is the opportunity for school students to collaborate with undergraduate university students on projects, thus establishing closer links between the university and school departments.

One example of this has been the support of a postgraduate research mentor from the University of Lincoln helping a school’s economics and business studies department to develop a marketing strategy for Pipers Crisps. This incorporated both primary and secondary group research methods, fostering both individual and collaborative team skills.

A linked visit to the National Centre for Food Manufacturing helped participants to appreciate recent advances in robotic technology and how they might be deployed in product development, whilst giving valuable insights into industrial apprenticeships.

"These projects have enhanced school students’ awareness of university methods of study."

Year 13 students have worked with undergraduates from the enterprise and entrepreneurship department of Bishop Grosseteste University on a team coaching workshop as well as attending seminars on the presentation of business proposals to potential investors. They have learnt much from undertaking the Belbin team role profiling; skills of self-knowledge which they can employ in future applications.

Sixth form biologists have worked alongside research scientists in partnership with Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust and another school’s modern languages department has collaborated successfully with Bishop Grosseteste University in teacher training. These projects have enhanced school students’ awareness of university methods of study, both in the United Kingdom and beyond (the University of Lincoln enjoys close links with several American institutions). It also gives them an informed insight into developing opportunities in business and enterprise.

Collaboration must, of course, carry mutual benefits. University staff have begun to visit schools to observe classroom practice in order to sharpen their understanding of the current sixth form provision. Further plans for collaboration continue to develop. Schools are working alongside university colleagues who are looking at delivering a series of leadership programmes to Key Stage 4 students.

With Covid, of course, the physical aspect of these initiatives has been put on hold, however, the engagements between institutions continue virtually so as not to lose momentum.

So, if you have not had the opportunity to engage with a nearby university, do consider doing this. In Lincoln, educational establishments work successfully together on initiatives pioneering local and international teaching and learning which serve to improve students’ transition to university.

These collaborations benefit students from these institutions, along with local business and wider education community.