Area-based partnerships


14th July 2022

CfEY’s latest policy investigation focusses on the current and future roles of area-based partnerships. These are local, non-statutory, voluntary partnerships of schools, academies and often (but not always) the local authority, working together to take responsibility for school improvement in an area.

If you work or lead in a local authority or local area based education partnership we need your help! Could you spare 10 minutes to complete this survey?

Read on to find out why we’re asking…

Last week I was lucky enough to attend an EdgeUK and FED event on policy making in education. The discussion was led by a panel of former permanent secretaries at DfE in its various guises ( useful to be reminded that, since 1997 the Department has been responsible not only for education and schools but also employment, skills, children and families at various times).

The three permanent secretaries discussed a number of policies they’d overseen over the last three decades, ranging from those that have persisted over time (like the academies programme), those which created a long lasting legacy (London Challenge) and myriad others, which for various reasons had fallen by the wayside. There’s a recording of the event here and my tweets about the event here.

Throughout the discussion there was a focus on what led to the success of longer-lasting policies. One point of agreement between the three especially resonated with me. Central government isn’t particularly good at delivering local services that are responsive, nimble and genuinely collaborative at all levels, from strategic leadership down to the nitty gritty of day to day provision of services

Over the summer so far our research has had a place-based focus, and much of what we’re learning chimes with the agreement at the event on the power of localism. For example, we’re currently working with two Opportunity Areas, West Somerset and Doncaster, to draw insights from their delivery. Two key points have stood out for me from our findings so far:

  • First, the power of local collaboration. I don’t think it will be a surprise to hear that we found local partnerships, such as those enabled by Opportunity Areas, allowed genuine joint-working between local agencies, schools and the business and voluntary sectors. What was more surprising for me was the impact on a collective culture within local education systems of bringing together settings and organisations across phases  with a common vision rooted in the local context. Stakeholders found it galvanising to think collectively about the needs of all young people in their local area. Creating a local culture can lead to lasting benefits, but requires leadership and vision. Opportunity Areas (and their replacement, Educational Investment Areas) have helped develop this leadership in some local authorities, but are time-limited and do not cover all areas. How do longer-lasting partnerships emerge? How do these fit with current (and future) policy? What will their role look like as more (all?) schools become academies over the next decade?
  • Second, the importance of a granular understanding of local needs. What are the relationships between schools in a local area? How does the often kaleidoscopic local picture of Trusts, Teach School Alliances, single academies and maintained schools create barriers and opportunities to working together. How does local transport enable or prevent young people or practitioners from accessing or delivering services? How do administrative boundaries map onto the lived-geographies of young people’s lives?

We’re now really excited to be embarking on a piece of research that will make a real difference to our understanding of how the system might unleash a locally-led zeal to improve schools. We are setting out on an exploration of the extent of area-based education collaborations in England and the role they play in an evolving policy landscape. Whilst area-based collaborations are an increasingly common feature of the educational landscape, not enough is known about them.  Our research intends to fill this gap in our knowledge. We see an urgent need for a wider investigation into the extent and coverage of area-based collaborations. As the school system moves towards the implementation of the White Paper and SEND review, we hope this work will inform national and local policy and practice. We’re interviewing and surveying leaders in local government, local partnerships, Multi-Academy Trusts and national policy makers, as well as carrying out a rapid evidence review.

If you lead in a local area-based partnership or local authority, we would really appreciate it if you could take 10 minutes to complete this survey.