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Education, education, education

By Dawn Plimmer 15 April 2015

As the General Election campaign enters its second week, schools are gearing up for a tough time whoever wins. With rising pupil numbers and constrained budgets, well-targeted philanthropy has a more important role to play than ever in helping to provide opportunities for the most disadvantaged children across England.

Compared to previous elections, so far education has been relatively low on the campaign agenda. Politicians were reluctant to be drawn into a discussion of school budgets in the TV debate last week. But the issue of school spending didn’t stay out of the headlines for long. If school budgets are frozen, the forecasted 460,000 increase in pupil numbers by 2019-20 would mean a 6.4% real terms cut in spending per pupil. With schools already battling to keep pace with growing numbers, delegates at the National Union of Teachers’ annual conference voted over the Easter weekend to endorse a motion to vote on strike action if the next government does not increase funding.

This turbulent context means that the need for philanthropic funding, and its potential impact, is huge. Education is an area that already receives a lot of attention from philanthropists, and justifiably so—basic skills, qualifications, and experiences at school have a major bearing on a young person’s long term employment prospects and life chances. It’s not the issue of whether to fund education, but how to effectively fund it that’s the challenge. There are lots of factors to consider—your personal interests and preferences; the kind of outcomes you are looking for (improved qualifications, for example, or employment prospects, or well-being); the type of interventions you want to support, and crucially, where your funding will have most impact.

When thinking about impact, targeting your funding to the young people who most need it is a key and here the question of geography is crucial.  Philanthropic funding and corporate support for education is disproportionately focused on London. But London has the best schools in the country—15 of the top 20 local authority areas with the highest percentage of secondary school students attending good or outstanding schools are in the capital, and in seven of these boroughs, all schools are rated good or better. In contrast, the North East and Yorkshire and Humber have some of the worst performing schools—in Hartlepool just 35% students attend good or outstanding schools, and 43% in Doncaster.

When it comes to targeting your funding at locations with the highest level of need, finding projects to support can be tricky as these too tend to be London-centric. It’s never advisable to set up new initiatives from scratch where proven models already exist, nor to scale initiatives countrywide before they’ve been tested, but there are some promising examples out there—TeachFirst for example which started off in London, and now places its teachers in disadvantaged communities across England and Wales; and The Brilliant Club which helps high-performing pupils from low income areas of London, the South East and the Midlands to access top universities. With organisations like the Sutton Trust and Education Endowment Foundation committed to identifying ways to increase educational attainment for children from low income families across the country, we hope to see more and more evidence based education initiatives emerging over the next few years.

With schools facing a squeeze, it’s more important than ever for philanthropic support to go those children who most need it.

This blog was first published by Spears Magazine as part of our philanthropy series.