Independent state school partnerships (ISSPs) in England
: an exploration of partnership enactment

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This thesis explores the ways in which three Independent State School Partnerships (ISSPs) enact their cross-sector collaborations. These ISSPs are partnerships between independent fee-paying schools and state-maintained schools in England. Most independent schools are regarded as charities for taxation purposes although they cater in the main for a privileged elite; a situation that has caused disquiet over time. Consequently, various governments have enacted policies in order to reduce this concern through sharing resources and one major policy attempt has been through ISSPs. They have existed for over twenty years although published accounts of ISSPs are mainly progress reports or evaluations. In contrast, this study investigates three ‘telling cases’ that foreground the processes and practices of their enactments from a grounded perspective.

In this qualitative study, in-depth interviews were undertaken with forty-three participants in three ISSPs in order to elicit their experiences and accounts of how they understood partnership, what is claimed for ISSPs and what costs and gains are involved in their local enactments. A small number of students who participated in these collaborations were also interviewed although the bulk of the sample was made up of those charged with and involved in delivering the partnerships. The study is theoretically framed by policy enactment theory and social exchange theory, which are used as key analytical tools to illuminate the forms that each partnership took and the contribution of the partnerships across each ‘telling case’.

The findings are first reported as three distinctive cases of partnership working. Each case is located in terms of its form and structure, its context and its constituent parts; that is the make-up of the schools that are affiliated to each partnership. The cases demonstrate the heterogeneity of the three ISSPs as well as some common features that characterise each setting. The telling cases are drawn together in order to detail the processes involved in enacting partnerships and findings indicate that these partnerships are not static entities but are evolving ecologies, flexing in response to changing environments and partner school contexts. The findings also show some evidence of mutual benefit. ISSPs are deemed to be worthwhile in different ways and to different extents, to different partners. Two of the ISSPs exhibited more of a collaborative and inclusive method of working and, in the third ISSP, the independent school was clearly in the lead taking responsibility for policy direction and provision.

The thesis concludes by discussing the main implications of this analysis, some of the key research limitations, revisiting and reformulating what these partnerships are, whilst challenging stereotypical perceptions, identifying research areas for further development, and raising implications for policy and practice. The study concludes that, based on its findings, ISSPs can transcend political differences for pragmatic reasons and can build bridges, however temporal, across the educational divide.

Date of Award1 Jun 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorJane Jones (Supervisor) & Meg Maguire (Supervisor)

Cite this