Inter-School Collaborations for Improving Educational and Social Outcomes

Inter-School Collaborations for Improving Educational and Social Outcomes for Children and Young People: a systematic review

Duration: 2015-2018

Research Team: Prof Paul Connolly (Principal Investigator); Dr Jennifer Hanratty; Prof Joanne Hughes; Prof Christopher Chapman; Dr Danielle Blaylock


Over the last 20 years, inter-school collaborations have become increasingly seen as a mechanism for improving educational and social outcomes amongst students.  Countries around the world have incorporated a collaborative approach into their education systems in order to improve attainment, reduce inequality and address division along social, economic, religious or ethnic lines (Bell et al., 2006; Borooah & Knox, 2015; Chapman, Collins, Sammons, Armstrong, & Muijs, 2009; Duffy & Gallagher, 2014b).

Overall, inter-school collaborations can take many forms and have been variously named: federations, consortia, partnerships, networks, confederations and collegiate. Some have suggested typologies for classifying the extent and depth of inter-schools collaborations. Evidence on the effectiveness of inter-school collaborations has been inhibited by the variety of different approaches taken and also the difficulties in isolating the effects of inter-school collaborations; without a control group it is difficult to establish what changes are due to the collaboration itself rather than exogenous variables such as changes in government policy, changes in school leadership or wider political, social or community level changes which operate independently of school collaboration activities to improve outcomes. The evidence is therefore not clear as to how effective inter-school collaborations are and whether different models are more effective than others.

This new review aims to produce the authoritative and trusted source of evidence on the effects of school collaboration.

Research objectives
This systematic review seeks to answer the following key questions:

  1. Do inter-school collaborations improve educational and social outcomes for students?
  2. Do differing types of inter-school collaboration lead to different effects on educational and social outcomes for students? If so, which types of inter-school collaboration are most effective?
  3. For each core type of inter-school collaboration, is it possible to identify whether there are key characteristics that optimise their effectiveness on educational and social outcomes for students?
  4. Do inter-school collaborations have differing effects for students depending on their initial levels of attaining, their socio-economic backgrounds, their gender, their ethnicity and/or their minority status? If so, do these differential effects vary in relation to differing types of inter-school collaboration?

Research design
The review will be registered with and conducted through the international Campbell Collaboration. We anticipate that in the research literature there will be few randomised (or cluster randomised) controlled trials and so we intend to include any controlled quasi-experimental studies where intervention schools and students are compared to control schools and students either not participating in inter-school collaborations or participating in alternative types of collaboration.

For the purposes of this systematic review, inter-school collaboration is defined as two or more schools working together on a sustained basis with the purpose of enhancing educational provision to improve educational and/or social outcomes for students. Types of collaboration can include information sharing between teachers and/or students either face-to-face or virtually; teacher professional development and enhancement activities; the sharing of resources; and bringing students together for shared educational experiences.

For the purposes of this review, ‘sustained’ is defined as occurring for at least one school term (a minimum of 10 weeks) and on a regular basis. One-off or infrequent events, such as joint school trips, competitive events or sporting fixtures will therefore not be included. The population of interest will be students of a compulsory school age, which will typically be 5-18 years old.

Please direct any queries about the research to Dr Jennifer Hanratty (phone: +44 (0)28 9097 2593; email:

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