Bringing schools and businesses together

Rachael Saunders, Education Director, Business in the Community on the role of education and business leaders in the regeneration of a community

Ten years ago I had a list of names and addresses on my phone, of parents who wanted my help to keep their child out of St Paul’s Way school. Some, who lived very near the school, knew their fate was sealed, and were desperately sad about it, worrying about how they could afford private tuition, and how they would keep their children out of gang violence. 

Now, I have an inbox groaning with families desperate to get their children into the very same school, dreaming of their child being one of the 60% going from St Paul’s Way to Russell Group universities. An amazing turnaround, and much of the credit goes to the school leadership teachers and wider team, the children and parents and carers. Not all of it though – because the story of St Paul’s Way is a story of a community, and of leaders in business, housing, the NHS, faith groups, the local council, who have a shared vision for the place and are working together to achieve it. 

I learnt a huge amount about how to transform a place in my ten years as a Tower Hamlets councillor. Now, six months into my role as Business in the Community’s Education Director, I am reminded of St Paul’s Way when I see our work in Blackpool, and the approach that Anglian Water have taken in their leadership in Wisbech – bringing local leaders together, understanding what is needed, taking action to achieve change.

Business in the Community's focus in education campaigns to date has been in bringing businesses and schools together to form strategic, long-term partnerships, based on a structured analysis of need. Through our Business Class programme, nearly 30,000 business volunteers from over 1,190 businesses have reached more than 277,000 young people. This is testament to the business leaders and school leaders who have made that happen. Earlier this year, we published the Business Class framework for the first time.Ten years after it was piloted in the north west and then scaled up across the UK, we are sharing the lessons we have learnt. 

The role that UBS played in the Hackney Learning Trust, alongside their powerful support for the Bridge Academy, is a powerful example of commitment to a whole place, with a school at its heart.In Blackpool, we are working with the Careers Enterprise Company to mobilise business volunteers into schools to support the Government’s Opportunity Area.   

In Wisbech, Business Class alumni Thomas Clarkson Academy are going from strength to strength, with the support of the local business community, including amazing support from Anglian Water. 

Never underestimate a head teacher. A good head teacher is someone who can lead a team, reassure parents, build rapport with children, demand resources from the DfE, collaborate with the local authority, work in partnership with their peers, and much much more. They know their community, and they are powerful advocates.  Business in the Community's Partners in Leadership programme, developed with KPMG, was designed to harness that leadership, and we need to do much more – both to back up school leaders in their own day to day work, and recognise them as powerful advocates. 

Businesses must support schools, as well as collaborate to achieve change in a place. There is so much more we can do together.