Manifesto 2024

Three policies to put schools at the heart of a civic mission

Our work in Bradford shows local communities – with schools at their heart – are the best source of solutions to the challenges they face

Our work in Bradford shows local communities – with schools at their heart – are the best source of solutions to the challenges they face

17 May 2024, 5:00

Poverty is created at distance but lived locally. We need a government that understands that. If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a nation to raise a society (and an economy) of which we can be internationally proud.

Radically redefining education offers the next government the opportunity to claim our global status as a nation of innovation, technology and equality. This requires a civic mindset, and it requires us to act on, not just in the system. Our next government must act locally: help communities solve their own problems and build their own futures.

In 2020, Confederation of School Trusts CEO, Leora Cruddas wrote: “Civic work has the most impact when it is delivered in partnership with other civic actors.” These words are as true today as when they were written, and they are the transformative mindset in which our educators live daily.

As educators, we act today so that children can lead choiceful lives tomorrow. That means being ruthlessly practical, so what must government do urgently to empower us to do so?

Partnership is key. School is the last civic institution with open doors, and the chance to talk. We are the only institution of obligation: meaning your absence will be noticed, and that absence acted upon.

It is very hard to educate a child who is hungry, cold or reeling from trauma. By stealth, schools have become the fourth emergency service, but not overtly by policy discussion and mutual decision: rather because other local services stopped.

Children are still coming through our doors every day, and we are seeing a crisis of vulnerable children. Schools cannot be expected to carry the weight of being an emergency service: we urgently need to rebuild the resilience of local services.

Government needs to do its bit through the exchequer, but beyond this it should transfer power so that families can speak up for themselves and get what they need from effective partnerships of schools and local services.

The fragmentation of local services is a blocker to effectively supporting young people with SEND and their families, who must wade through acres of bureaucracy from separate, unaligned agencies.

School is the last civic institution with open doors

We want to see local convening partnerships bringing together the public sector agencies that support young people. Crucially, these partnerships must be led and driven by the people we serve.

In Bradford, we have supported the creation of the Education Alliance for Life Chances, which brings together schools, children’s services, the local authority, the NHS, the VCS and the police, and Bradford’s world leading research community. This enables better decisions for young people.

Through our work with Citizens UK, young people have a seat at the table. We want to work with others who share our aspirations across the cities we serve, and we are absolutely not precious about who ‘owns’ this work. It is time to move past the artificial divides that have existed for too long between, for example, local authorities and academy trusts.

Here are three policies for the next administration to deliver the civic partnerships our communities need:

A smart government would craft a joint workforce plan between local services, enabling multi-disciplinary work to happen smoothly, effectively and with efficiency that isn’t cruelly reductive to what the price is today.

A visionary government would mandate local convening partnerships in every local authority: make people who live and breathe communities the core of the solution.

A bold government would understand that schools cannot act in isolation: we need a national mission to reset child protection and wellbeing, fix the parlous state of children’s services and the care system, and fully recognise that childhood is now partially online.

Education is a profession of ideas and delivery: we have proven that we can continue to deliver on the vapour trails of budgets long wrung dry. But the world has changed and so must the system.

We need a government who listens and responds, and who understands that a nation is built of individuals. Of one child, at one table, learning day by day. 

This article is part of a series of sector-led policies in the run-up to the next general election. Read all the others here

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