The Journal for Executive and Governance Leaders

School Trusts as new Civic Structures

Earlier this year, I was delighted to give evidence to the UPP Foundation Civic University Commission. It was a privilege to have the opportunity to think hard about the civic role of universities and the role they play in their localities by making a strategic contribution to the greater social good.

This made me think about the role of Trusts and the work that CST has been doing to develop a new narrative to counter some of misinformation and misrepresentation of Trusts in the media. Part of CST’s role is to advocate for you – for the brilliant work you do to develop great teaching and transform the lives of children.

As your sector body, CST will defend you. Every time someone or some organisations make false claims or generalisations in the press, I will correct them or call for retractions. But we cannot continue to simply defend our position. We must change the story.

Our new narrative goes back to our original purpose – to advance education for public benefit. So I’ve argued that we should stop using the ugly terms ‘MAT’ and ‘SAT’ which mean nothing to parents. I’ve argued that we should reintroduce the term school. Every parent knows what that means.

We must rebuild a sense of what schools and School Trusts are for, a belief that teachers change lives – that together we can make an enormous difference in the lives of children and young people.

Leora Cruddas

So let’s say instead that we are School Trusts – education charities that run schools to give children a brilliant future. We help our communities thrive by giving children the best opportunity to learn inside and outside the classroom.

Now I’d like to take this one step further. I believe School Trusts are new civic structures. And I believe trust leaders are civic leaders. We need to work with other civic partners to advance education in our localities as a public good.

Larger school trusts may be quite sizeable employers in an area and will have the capability and capacity to act with other civic partners for the common good. Smaller school trusts who want to be good civic partners to their local authority may express their civic duty in the form of a compact or local agreement to advance education as a public good in their locality.

Anchoring Trusts in communities
As part of developing our understanding of school trusts as new civic structures, they must be anchored in their communities. They must be ‘anchor institutions.’

Anchor institutions, alongside their main purpose, play a significant role in a locality by making a strategic contribution to the greater social good.

Typically anchor institutions:

  • Have strong ties to the geographic area in which they are based;
  • Tend to be larger employers and have significant purchasing power;
  • Are not-for-profit or as in the case of School Trusts, charitable organisations.

The concept originated In the United States in the 1960s. By the turn of the century, urban universities felt that they could no longer ignore the conditions that their communities were experiencing. As a consequence, universities started to create partnerships with other local and civic organisations to address the complex social and economic challenges faced by their local communities.

So an ‘anchor institution’ is an organisation with an important presence in a place. Examples include local authorities, NHS trusts, universities and housing associations. Anchor Institutions are significant because they have a large stake in their local area as, due to their activities, they cannot easily relocate. School Trusts (particularly the larger trusts) are anchor Institutions.

It is possible to explore a range of ways in which school trusts as anchor Institutions can leverage assets they hold in trust to benefit the local area and local people – for School Trusts to offer not just educational value in a locality, but wider social value.

In this way, School Trusts become part of a civic community which is engaged, supportive and shares objectives, further supporting the places where they are based.

Building Trust
I’ve written previously about the importance of building trust.

Never before has this seemed more important. The deep economic and social changes that are happening in Britain today make the role of School Trusts as civic structures even more vital. It is education that will heal the deep divisions in our society.

But this cannot happen while a toxic narrative about state education takes hold. We must rebuild a sense of what schools and School Trusts are for, a belief that teachers change lives – that together we can make an enormous difference in the lives of children and young people.

We must consciously and deliberately act together to build trust as a relational principle, a core value and promise that we understand our civic duty to hold trust on behalf of children and young people.