Building Partnerships

Posted: 22nd May 2024

Joining a new school in your first headship during Covid would be challenging enough, without the simultaneous decision to turbo charge your school’s partnerships work. This was the challenge facing Lindsey Hughes, Headmistress at Channing School in North London, when she joined the school just over three years ago. On appointment Lindsey was tasked by the Governors to widen access to a Channing education, and she was keen to ensure that the School became a force for good in the local Highgate community. One of the first things Lindsey did was appoint the Head of Sixth Form, Jennifer Kung, as Director of Partnerships (now Director of Social Impact) and the first thing Jennifer did was audit what the school currently did in that space.

Up to that point partnerships activity had operated in a relatively piecemeal and ad hoc way. Opportunities for students to be involved in volunteering through the school were limited. Whilst students volunteered to help out at some external organisations it tended to be driven by their own personal connections or an individual teacher’s interests and it happened in disparate pockets across the school.

Underpinning our plans was the desire to make a genuine commitment to mutually beneficial partnerships, rather than carrying out simple outreach activities. We had a fledgling relationship with Highgate Newtown Community Partners (HNCP), based on providing students to chat with and entertain guests at their lunches for older local residents. During Covid we stepped in to provide ‘meals on wheels’ services when the local council withdrew them, forging a foundation of trust, and it soon became clear that there was a lot that we could achieve together. That created the basis for Education +, a thriving partnership between HNCP, Channing, Brookfield Primary School and St. Aloysius’ College. The partnership focuses on providing academic enrichment and cultural capital for students who would not otherwise have access to them. Typically this means activities and clubs for children who are eligible for Pupil Premium.

We started small with some of our Senior School students visiting local primary schools and reading with their pupils. Joint partnership clubs at both Channing Junior and Senior School were established, for example multi-sports, debating and German clubs. This has grown to encompass over 100 students from 10 local schools participating in clubs and partnership activities every week.

The partnership underscores Channing’s values of social justice and shared responsibility, dismantling stereotypes on both sides. The benefit for both sets of students was immediately apparent, with feedback suggesting both leaders and participants feel better about themselves and about their ability to make a positive change in the world.

So, what are some of the things we’ve learned along the way?

Resourcing and Logistics

  1. You need to have a dedicated person (ideally with with timetable relief if they’re a teacher) in order to give this the time and attention it needs;
  2. Your partner schools need a single point of contact in your school, they haven’t got time to liaise with multiple people;
  3. You need to have flexibility on both sides – do you need to run clubs at breakfast time to accommodate other schools/students, for example? Your school day timings won’t always match your partner schools, for example when we run a lunchtime debating club we provide lunch for our partner schools because they’re coming out of a lesson to take part and will probably miss lunch at their own school;
  4. Think about how you’ll move children around between clubs, do you have someone who can collect them and bring them to the school or take them back?
  5. Your whole school community needs to be involved – our catering department, IT team and marketing, all have a role to play in supporting the activities we run;
  6. Scaffold what teachers do as much as possible so that they can focus on delivering the clubs and activities and not on the administrative or logistical aspects;
  7. When logistics get in the way, that’s when you need money to help you out – what we could only do with a minibus with a driver and a chaperone! That’s a dream for the future.
  8. It’s important to have a willing bursar and a supportive head to help remove the roadblocks you will encounter.

Relationships and Communication

  1. So much of the likely success of any initiatives will be based on personal relationships between the different members of staff in different schools, invest time in them;
  2. Remember to thank your teachers regularly because often they’re doing it as an add-on to their day jobs;
  3. It’s not a job that fits into a neat box so you have to listen to your partner schools and work out together what will add value in your own context;
  4. Hold regular meetings with your opposite numbers in your partner schools – it’s good to talk;
  5. Don’t over promise, you need to know what would work for your school, tick box exercises aren’t sustainable;
  6. Measure what you do – participation and impact both matter;


  1. You need to be relentless, colleagues in partner state schools will be juggling a lot of competing priorities, they might need chasing. We initially contacted 15-20 local schools and followed up first with the ones that seemed the most open to partnering with us;
  2. It’s a very immersive role, even with timetable remission our Director of Partnerships often goes above and beyond to get things done;
  3. Not everything will work out or run for more than a term and that’s okay;

Unexpected benefits

  1. For individual teachers it’s an opportunity to promote your subject, e.g. Minimus Club brings Latin to a wider audience;
  2. You can broaden the scope of what you offer by bringing together larger groups of students with an interest in a specific area, e.g. debating;
  3. Your clubs can give other schools’ pupils the opportunity to be somewhere they’re not used to going, to have a change of environment, for example to be in a science lab or to enjoy a subject in a different context;
  4. Whilst you may be focused on forging strategic partnerships you can also take advantage of opportunistic activities when they come along.

And finally, it’s worth it! Remember that there are lots of other people out there who want the same things for young people as you do: academic enrichment, cultural capital, to be inspired and to be aspirational for themselves. If you find those people and work with them you really can create something truly rewarding and transformational.

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