Getting Started

Ask yourself why? Establish a working group and set your parameters.

On this page


Kilarmaron Special School share their experiences.

Ask yourself “why?”

SMP youth consultations.
SMP youth consultations.

It’s a vital question before you go any further! Partnerships must be positively enabling for both sides.

  • Are looking for a holiday, a funding stream, an easy win for your school, or simply to “do good in Malawi”? If so, we wouldn’t recommend setting up a school partnership.
  • Are you looking to support global citizenship, working through partnership and solidarity, to support real learning outcomes at both sides? Are you happy to have uncomfortable conversations at times, to reflect on your own privileges, and dedicate yourself towards making it work? If so, we definitely recommend a school partnership.

Penicuik High School, who are partnered with Namadzi CDSS, reflect:

“It is important that [a partnership] is not viewed as an 'add on,' or a 'nice to have,' but something which has a positive influence on the ethos and life of the school.”

It is vitally important that both partners understand why they are taking on the project, and ensure they gather plenty people who also understand this vision. MaSP’s visits to 17 partnership schools in Malawi in January 2022 found some partnerships faced a challenge here. They found a greater,

“Need for awareness of why school partnerships are formed, there was that gap in understanding of the overall existence of a school partnership”.

Join the SMP / MaSP

SMP Youth Congress.
SMP Youth Congress.

If you are in Scotland, we really recommend you join the Scotland Malawi Partnership for free here! Once a member, contact our Youth & Schools Officer: notifying us of your interest in a partnership.

If you are in Malawi, join the Malawi Scotland Partnership for free here! Once a member, email Ruth Maluwa (Southern Region) on or Mtameni Kachusa (Northern Region) on notifying them of your interest in a partnership.

As a member, you will have access to a whole network of people with links between our two countries, our regular Youth & School Forums, annual Youth Festival, learning resources, staff support and much, much more!

Establish a working group: staff, young people, community

Young Scots meeting then President of Malawi, His Excellency Peter Mutharika.
Young Scots meeting then President of Malawi, His Excellency Peter Mutharika.

Too often it’s one keen person in a school or youth group who will get a partnership off the ground and the partnership becomes reliant on that one individual. This is no bad thing initially as that enthusiasm can be infectious, but it’s vitally important to rally others and build a team or working group across your youth or school community.

Your group can include:

  • School leadership teams
  • Youth leaders
  • Teachers
  • Parents/guardian
  • Young people
  • Wider school/youth community
  • Students
  • Mother group members

Having a working group helps keep the partnership sustainable and ensure it reflects the whole school or youth group community. It’s important to draw on as many diverse experiences as possible.


Beath High School share their experience with their ‘Malawi lunch’.

25th Stirling (Dunblane) Boy’s Brigade, partnered with Likhubula province, suggest,

Ian Mitchell logo

“Give the young people (in both countries) their voice and get their parents involved, too... Give adult leaders clear roles. Don’t try to do short-term things anyway; to be sustainable, you have to always think far into the future, and be continually recruiting people who are interested to help build leadership for years to come.”

25th Stirling (Dunblane) Boy’s Brigade.

The group will determine and monitor the objectives and activities of the partnership and hold each other to account. It will be instrumental in setting up your initial Partnership Agreement, reviewing this annually and ensuring it is kept to. You can rotate a coordinator in the group to keep everything moving along.

Max from the SMP Youth Committee adds,


“At our school, the partnership died when the teachers left or lost interest. More people needed to be involved.”

Max from the SMP Youth Committee.

Jennifer Flockhart, from ESMS-Ekwendeni Partnership reflects,

Headshot ESMS Jenny Flockhart

“[our working group] has been a problem for us but difficult to manage with such a big turnover of staff and difficulty in formal communication.”

Jennifer Flockhart, from ESMS-Ekwendeni Partnership .

Inevitably, staff and young people change, having a working group means changeover stays seamless!

Penicuik High School, which is partnered with Namadzi CDSS, advise:

Namadzi Penicuik CROPPED

“Partnerships work best when run by committee in order that they do not become reliant on any one individual. Staff in both schools are often subject to change for a variety of reasons. For this to work effectively a strong partnership agreement setting out the terms of the partnership will help to keep everyone moving in the same direction. We need to be accountable to one another about moving the agreed aims forward and maintaining regular communication.”

Penicuik High School.

Our experience is that having appropriate structures is just as important at the Malawian side as the Scottish side. Schools in Malawi often have existing structures like committees and community groups. It’s important not to circumvent these, so it’s a good idea to start by asking what existing structures and protocols should be followed in Malawi. These groups are often linked to the wider community and if school partnerships bypass these it’s all too easy for suspicions or jealousies to build up.

MaSP’s visits to 17 partnership schools in Malawi in January 2022 found,

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“Partnership committees are key to working partnerships where all parties involved are aware, and run the partnerships (school heads, mother group, community, local chief, teachers and selected pupils).

Teacher transfers affect the overall partnership in cases where the partnership lead leaves with all the information to the transferred schools without leaving the school any basis of continuing the partnership... schools have no proper committees, and information is limited to just one person”.

The Malawi Scotland Partnership.

The positives however are worth nurturing your group for! The Watson’s Malawi Partnership, said,


“We have learned that many hands make light work and are extremely grateful to our network of parents, teachers, community volunteers and friends”

The Watson’s Malawi Partnership.

Build a critical understanding

As outlined in the ‘Do No Harm’ section, reflecting the findings of the ‘School Partnership and school visits in a Global Citizenship Context’ report, we recommend teachers and learners invest in building critical understanding of related issues of inequality, power and poverty, before starting a school partnership. Having this understanding will really help establish a strong partnership, getting the core ethos right.

The SMP has a whole range of services and an expanding suite of resources which schools can either deliver themselves, or which the SMP can offer presenters/facilitators for.

Forthcoming SMP critical understanding lessons for upper primary and lower secondary on:

  • Power and poverty, a critical understanding
  • Use of images and video: the narratives we construct
  • Scotland and Malawi: Understanding our shared history
  • Partnership vs charity
  • Critical dialogue groups (with QMU and StekaSkills)
  • Understanding the ‘White Savior’ complex
  • Do No Harm: exploring intended and unintended consequences
  • The case for Climate Justice
  • Understanding Malawi: its language and culture

Upskill working group

We recommend to spend at least 3 months upskilling staff and your working group to gain a real understanding about partnership working, international development, the sustainable development goals and global citizenship.

Teacher/Youth Leader training,


St Ronan’s Primary School, who are partnered with Thondwe Primary School said: “Each school has their own committee of young people… We share a lot between the two schools, such as talking about our school library and sharing our school values. We also both have school gardens and make good use of that.”

Find a partner

Let us know when you think you have reached this stage! The SMP and MaSP will then work together to find you a suitable partner.

Whilst we can’t guarantee that we’ll be able to find you a partner school, we’re always happy to try.

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To request support in Scotland:

  1. Email our Youth & Schools Officer here, notifying us of your interest to find a partner
  2. Complete a Partner Profile form which asks:

    - For detailed information about your school/youth group, and your intentions with a partnership
    - and must be written collaboratively with your working group
    - This will be used to match you with a suitable partner based on school/group size, activities and interests.
  3. Book a Partnership Guide meeting with SMP to ensure all details are understood, alongside our Partnership Principles
  4. Enjoy your partnership introduction! This will be facilitated on the most appropriate medium for both schools, that being either Whatsapp, by email or as far as possible by conversation via video link.

If you are in Malawi, please visit our sister organisation’s (the Malawi Scotland Partnership) website.

Partnership agreement

Namadzi CDSS, partnered with Penicuik High School.
Namadzi CDSS, partnered with Penicuik High School.

After introduction your next step, and one of the most important steps in establishing a new school partnership, is to agree a formal Partnership Agreement.


  • Partnership Agreement examples here and here
  • and a Blank Partnership Agreement document here

Your Partnership Agreement must be:

  • set out by both schools
  • outline your shared objectives and the activities you are interested in undertaking together
  • arise from extended discussions, as the best partnership agreements are built on real mutual understanding and mutual respect

Jennifer Flockhart from ESMS-Ekwendi Partnership mentions,

Headshot ESMS Jenny Flockhart

“When establishing this agreement between schools it is difficult to have an open dialogue but I don’t feel I should write an agreement and ask for them to agree – it should be more collaborative which is not easy.”

Jennifer Flockhart, ESMS-Ekwendi Partnership.

One way to go about this is for each youth group or school to fill out a Partnership Agreement individually based on their own terms, then to come together to compare, reflect and amalgamate.

Avoid the temptation to ‘just get it done’, or for one side to draft a complete document and risk the other side saying ‘that’s fine’.

Amy Blake, CEO of Classrooms for Malawi shares,

Classrooms for Malawi

“Both schools should be fully committed to a long term partnership and should be fully aware of all planned activities and expectations on both teachers and pupils.”

Amy Blake, CEO of Classrooms for Malawi.

Questions to cover in the Partnership Agreement:

  • Aims of partnership
  • Objectives, Long term and Short term
  • Activities
  • Outcomes and how you will measure them
  • How you will communicate
  • Will you choose to involve money? And how will you critically explore this?
  • Will there be visits?
  • How will you resolve disagreements?
  • Working group members and roles
  • How often you will review your working group and Partnership Agreement

Do work with our Partnership Principles at this stage so both schools have a realistic expectation of what a partnership is.

The SMP and MaSP can help deliver sessions in school about partnership vs charity: we have found this really useful at this stage.

Do review your Partnership Agreement every year. Covid-19 has shown how important this step is as it helps to manage expectations when situations unexpectedly change.

Youth Clubs

25th Stirling (Dunblane) Boy’s Brigade, partnered with Likhubula province.
25th Stirling (Dunblane) Boy’s Brigade, partnered with Likhubula province.

There is a difference between how Scotland and Malawi term a youth group. Here is a short summary of each:

In Malawi:

In Malawi a Youth Club is often a grouping of young people usually from their teen years to 30 years of age. They are usually formed to combat various social challenges that young people face or to attend to a specific social need. Most Youth Clubs in Malawi deal with issues to deal with Sexual and Reproductive Education and Services, HIV/AIDS, Climate Change and other young people specific topics.

In Scotland:

In Scotland, a broad definition of a youth club is a service that brings young people together and contributes towards their personal and social development, and economic wellbeing. Attendees can be anything between the ages of 7-26 years of age but many are in their mid to early teens. Generally, youth work in Scotland aims to inspire better outcomes for young people throughout the rest of their lives. Levels of social inequality in Scotland can be surprising for what may be expected of a developed country and there remains certain levels of poverty around the country. Youth work aims to work towards a fairer, more just world. In this sense, youth groups in Scotland are excellent candidates for partnership working.

If you are a youth group, in either country, SMP and MaSP can also try to match you either with a youth group, organisation or charity dependent on which best matches your service and interests.

Lift off!

[Picture: SMP Youth Congress]

Once all the above stages have been agreed and worked through, you are now officially a school partnership through SMP and MaSP!

Don’t forget to celebrate your new partnership and promote it to your wider community.

Penicuik High School, partnered with Namadzi CDSS, encourage you to…

SMP Picture10

“Do it! The bond of friendship and understanding between a partner brings a whole new level of interaction between school communities.  It enriches the lives of everyone involved and provides a rich context for us in finding our place as global citizens.”

Here are some ideas:

  • Hold a launch event
  • Put out photos and images on social media and newsletters
  • Email SMP with details and images to share with the membership
  • Inform other local schools, local authorities and appropriate organisations

By promoting it to your wider community you may be surprised by who wants to be involved.

George Watson’s College recommends: “Start small and you’ll be surprised by how many friends you will make on the way.”

You could host an event to launch the partnership that highlights some of the very first activities you will be doing together. SMP and MaSP can support you with materials and ideas.

In Malawi, you can let your local Education Advisors and Managers know that you have started a partnership. This will help your school to get support and connect with other schools and youth groups locally with similar partnerships. By building these connections, you’ll find more opportunities arise for you. MaSP are able to help you with this.

In Scotland, it’s similarly valuable to inform appropriate structures, including clusters and other local schools.

St Ronan’s Primary School, partnered with Thondwe Primary School, share: “It’s well worth doing. If you get the chance to do it, I would urge you to form a partnership."

Beath High School, partnered with Mapanga and Njale Primary Schools, share: “There is no doubt that the partnership is worth the time and effort necessary to make it work.”