The sense of place: the power of school partnerships 

Clancy McMullan, S.P.A. associate and recent York ISSP co-ordinator

Having worked in education for over twenty years, I can say with confidence that the obstacle which hinders young people primarily is a lack of self-belief. Dissuading a student’s sense of their place as fixed in society, is not something that can be easily achieved: perceived barriers are often deeply ingrained.

However, through school partnerships, let me propose, there is a way to help.

It is far too simplistic to suggest that of the two collaborating sectors of state and independent school partnerships, self-confidence is an issue in only one. In a world of league tables, it doesn’t matter whether a student attends an independent school or a state school/academy, they are acutely aware from the outset of their education of where they sit, and where they ‘belong’ on that sliding scale.

Let me give York as an example: we have state/academy schools with catchment areas of the most deprived – by national standards – living shoulder to shoulder alongside the least, (English Indices of Multiple Deprivation (IMD) 2019) The students’ perception of their education is as entwined in their sense of being as the social indicators they see on their walk to school each morning.

So, to the key role that school partnerships can have on learners’ perceptions of their education and in turn on their self-belief.

Parity is the key

An equitable partnership combines communities – geographically, through a variety of host sites; and socially, through those involved: the staff; the families; and the community at large. Everyone is made aware that they are connected.

Too often when we consider school partnerships our focus is drawn to a single project or event; to the shared experience of one group of students from different schools in one space. Yet, consider the impact that selecting the venue; the practitioners; and the cohort can have; and you will begin to see the potential power of that partnership on learners’ sense of place.

  • Delivery spaces:
    • State of the art facilities are available throughout partnerships with individual schools able to offer distinct provision for specific events. Thus, an argument can be made for designing projects around these facilities to ensure parity.
  • Hosting staff meetings on a carousel indirectly endorses the equity of membership for the staff involved. Visiting each school in turn advocates shared ownership and true collaboration, acknowledging that every partnership school has something of value to contribute.
  • Engaging practitioners:
    • Sessions delivered by practitioners from different schools – ideally in different contexts – acknowledges the ever-expanding pool of talent available to the partnership. Equally, the impact of drawing from this pool develops networks and fosters the sharing of good practice and informal CPD opportunities between schools and, quite often, between trusts not simply across sectors.
  • Learner engagement:
    • Students from all partnership schools should attend and collaborate at all events, affording the opportunity to make highly visible the notion of being part of a larger whole.
  • The message you send to students:
    • Consider the power of a student in your school seeing their teacher tutoring a group of partnership students, in an entirely different setting. The message conveyed is that they are taught by quality staff. When their school is used as a venue, the message is that their school has something to offer that other partnership schools don’t have. So, the message is not solely that they are as good as those other students but a ringing endorsement of the quality of the education they receive as part of a greater whole.

Belonging – the real power of partnerships

If, through partnerships, we can demonstrate to young people that they ‘belong’ in their community, their ward, their school, and in turn that they value their school, their teachers and themselves, we have the power to make a substantial impact: to show that they also belong to a wider community, to increase their self-belief and show them that there are no fixed points on the scale.

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