A recent report from the Academies Commission entitled ‘Unleashing Greatness’ suggests ‘a more intensive drive to develop professional connections, collaborative activity and learning – both within and across schools – will generate fundamental change across the school system.' Partnership and shared resources are certainly one answer to the sector’s current challenges, but only if done the right way.

Predictably, lawyers have yet again made life overly-complicated. There is a veritable plethora of corporate collaborative structures on offer including school companies, local collaborative trusts, multi-academy trusts and umbrella trusts. Whilst they all have their place, the question must be asked as to whether any of them are really suitable for the sort of grass-roots co-operation that can make all the difference between success and failure. The processes involved in setting them up are complex (particularly for primary schools), they are costly to establish and run and they lack the flexibility vital to successful evolution.

For many Dioceses a key priority will be to foster strong and healthy communities, creating effective school partnerships with Christ at the centre. Successful relationships tend to flow not from a complex corporate structure but rather a simple agreement built on two things - a common ethos and understanding on the one part and a sharp focus on delivering practical results on the other.

The creation of this type of arrangement is becoming increasingly attractive to schools that want to formalise an existing collaboration without going to the time and expense of setting up a joint-venture company. This is achieved by putting in place a Partnering Agreement – it’s fast to set up and cheaper to establish. Furthermore, there is little, if any, on-going expense in running a collaborative arrangement of this nature. There are no audit fees to pay and no regulatory returns to be filed.

Finally, a Partnering Agreement provides a very flexible structure that can evolve as the collaboration deepens.  New participants can be added quickly and easily and it doesn’t matter whether they are schools or academies. Conversely, a participant that is not ‘pulling its weight’ can be asked to leave.

For primary schools in close geographical proximity, setting up a Partnering Agreement can help deliver tangible benefits without creating unnecessary bureaucracy. Resources, expertise and support can be shared easily to improve the quality of learning for pupils and provide much needed support for hard-pressed teaching staff.

There are a few simple keys to success in setting up a Partnering Agreement. First, schools need to identify the values that underpin their collaboration and how these are to be translated into ways of working together.  Secondly, they need to set clear, practical objectives and agree how these are to be measured. Finally, schools need to develop a simple Business Plan to translate thought into action.

With the Church of England returning to the forefront of the education agenda, Dioceses have a fantastic opportunity to ‘raise the bar’ in relation to the delivery of high-quality, distinctively Christian education. By using a collaborative Partnering Agreement Church schools can create a strong, vibrant and attractive community hub, capable of drawing in others.  In short, the challenge is to seize the opportunities now available and ensure the Church is right at the centre of the education agenda. Through that, it may provide a profound and positive influence for generations to come.

Simon Ramshaw is a Partner at Anthony Collins Solicitors, specialising in corporate law.

This piece also appeared in The Church of England Newspaper (online) on 31 May 2013. A copy of this article can also be found on their website – ease click here to view.
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