Philanthropists like giving to schools, says Angela Kail. But if the school system in England was ever straightforward for charities, it isn’t any more. Here’s a guide through the minefield

Scan The Sunday Times Giving List, which names the UK’s top 200 philanthropists, and it quickly becomes clear that education is a priority for today’s biggest givers. More than half of those on the list have committed all or some of their philanthropy to education charities.

The idea of philanthropists getting involved with education, and specifically setting up schools, dates back centuries. But any major donor today who wants to fund an effective, high-impact education charity faces a pretty confusing landscape as the push for academies accelerates and schools’ autonomy increases.

This is why NPC published School Report this week, a new paper that looks at how charities can be effective when helping to improve outcomes for pupils. This includes voluntary organisations working across the school system, from inside the classroom to supplying schools with lesson materials.

Here are four ways that charities might help:

1. Stepping in on the sugar tax 

One of the big promises to schools made in the last budget was that proceeds from the new sugar tax – estimated at more than half a billion pounds a year – would fund extra school sports. This is a decent idea that has already hit two bumps in the road: will the money appear as promised (some post-budget analysis suggests not); and who will deliver those extra hours of work when teacher workload is already a top concern?

2. Maintaining the highest quality teaching

Good quality teaching is the key to success for children. This may sound obvious to teachers, but Sutton Trust research last
year showed the vital role of developing and maintaining skills.

There has been something of an explosion of charities working to help teachers to develop their skills. The
Prince’s Teaching Institute and Teaching Leaders both support teachers in leadership positions.

There is a trend for more digital projects in this area, too: teachers can access webinars and YouTube courses run by WHOLE Education, for example.

School governance is under increasing scrutiny, with a focus on the boards of academies and what benefit board members bring. Charitable organisations such as the New Schools Network are trying to recruit governors for academies, while the National Governors’ Association provides guidance and resources

3. Charities can take a lead role

Greenhouse Sports, for example, works with children in London – in their free time and during school – using exercise to address truancy, among other things, while the Youth Sports Trust gave more than 500,000 children the chance to participate in high-quality sport. Such charities already work alongside schools to provide opportunities beyond the classroom (and there is an increasingly strong evidence base that it helps school achievement too).

4. Thinking beyond London

The charity sector faces the same imbalance seen across so much British life: a concentration of organisations and funding in the south east. But as London schools increasingly leave the rest of the country behind, philanthropists should think about going further afield.

The Youth Sports Trust, for example is run out of Loughborough University. The Tutor Trust in the north west provides affordable small-group and one-on-one tuition to bolster learning, while the charity Re-Entry in Wolverhampton works in small groups with 5 to 17-year-olds to improve their behaviour and maintain their studies.

There is, nonetheless, a disparity. Charities face a challenge to bridge the geographical divide, by focusing more energy and resources in disadvantaged regions, where help might be most in need and might make the greatest difference.

A challenge for charities working with schools

This sort of collaboration will be challenging as squeezed budgets make extra-curricular activities a tempting
target for cuts. An after-school art club, after all, requires not just the presence
of a teacher but additional resources. Charities must understand the needs and worries confronting schools and provide evidence of their impact. Voluntary organisations need to make a compelling case of why their support is needed (and should be paid for).

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