This article draws on findings from two English research projects exploring collaborative reform for schools in difficulty. Initially, the article provides a brief policy overview of some of the key policy drivers of educational reform in England during the past decade. This contextual analysis is used to provide background for the exploration of two contrasting examples of collaborative models for improvement. First, the central government policy of ‘Federating’ schools is considered; second, the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust ‘Specialist Schools Achievement Programme’ is examined. The article draws together some emerging key themes from the models to discuss their implications for the future development of models for improvement in schools in difficulty. In conclusion, the article presents a number of propositions that require further exploration.