February 2020 edition: Maximising Civic Impact

Maximising Civic Impact

In the last edition of Trust, I wrote about school trusts as an insurgent mission. This is a bold mission, requiring spikiness and limitless horizons. It involves collective action – leaders who are brilliant at leading their organisations and building trust, but who are also civic leaders who work with other civic actors for wider social good.

I believe there are five principles which should be borne in mind for a school trust thinking about how it best delivers a civic role.

  • Firstly, civic work has the most impact when it is delivered in partnership with other civic actors – local government, the NHS, housing bodies, cultural institutions, local businesses, and so on. There will be some areas where it makes sense for school trusts to take the lead, working with some or all these partners. And there will be some areas where school trusts work to support initiatives or programmes which are led by others in a local area.
  • Secondly, work should be designed around what the local community/ies where school trusts are based, actually want. Any programme of work should be preceded by a period of activity of consultation with the community – with a particular focus on those more disadvantaged and marginalised groups who may find it harder to articulate their priorities and needs.
  • Thirdly, work should be appropriate to the scale and the strengths of the trust and its partners. This is explored more below – but in general, larger trusts will be able to, and ought to think about, impact on a larger scale than smaller trusts. But all trusts should be able to make a civic impact in some way.
  • Fourthly, civic work should be a conscious part of a school trust’s activity. Real impact comes when it is seen as a core part of the trust’s activity and strategy. This means that for civic work to be meaningful it should have an executive level sponsor as well as support from the trust’s board, and it should receive regular scrutiny from the trust to ensure it continues to be focussed and useful.
  • Fifthly, civic work should sit alongside the trust’s broader strategy. It need not be a huge amount of additional work, nor should it require significant additional financial resource from the trust. There should be no conflict between the trust’s broader charitable purposes to advance education, and the civic work it engages in with its local community/ies.


CST has created a framework for those trusts looking to maximise their civic impact. Below we have set out a way to help trusts think through how they might focus their civic work.

We think there are at least three key audiences or relationships for this work, which should be considered when trusts are scoping their civic work:

  1. Parents, carers, the local community and other local schools, both trust schools and maintained schools;
  2. Local governmental partners – local authorities as well as larger areas of regional government where they exist such as mayors / combined city regions;
  3. Wider civic partners in an area, like the health services, the police, other educational bodies (most likely to be colleges, universities), other charities, local cultural institutions (museums, galleries, sports teams etc), and local businesses.

Within the framework we set out a simple matrix to help trusts think through what activity in each of these areas may look like. A trust may choose to focus on all three of these areas, or two, or one. Trusts should also not feel constrained by the proposed groupings or examples – these are illustrative only.

Civic leaders create the conditions for collective impact by addressing complex issues affecting children and young people that require different actors to work together, possibly even to change their behaviours.

Leora Cruddas

In any case of activity, we think a trust’s engagement as a civic actor might be somewhat dependent on scale, but not exclusively. In some of the examples provided in the matrix, scale is irrelevant – and small trusts may find that they can be part of a group executing civic activity on a large scale if circumstances lend themselves to it.

I’d like to be clear about the difference as I see it between civic leadership and community leadership. The community leader is a designation for a person widely perceived to represent a community. Civic leadership is about the protection and promotion of public values and addressing issues of place or public concern.

In the case of civic trusts, we need to help communities develop a better understanding of education and its role in regeneration and engage in a collaboration of partners to deliver change and transformation in a locality or region. Civic leaders create the conditions for collective impact by addressing complex issues affecting children and young people that require different actors to work together, possibly even to change their behaviours.

In this way, we will leverage civic impact, promote and protect the value of the child and build high quality local education systems.