Charitable giving: how can schools be helped to do more?

The amount of funds raised by schools for outside charities has dropped in the past year. Schools will continue to give less if they cannot get educational value from the process, new research from the Citizenship Foundation suggests.

Picture credit: Artotem

The government has been demanding that schools promote ‘British values’ at the same time as encouraging ‘social action’. Yet something isn’t joining up here.

Most people learn better by doing. Most can grasp fairly complex concepts but they don’t mean much until they’ve actually experienced them in some way. For example, I understand the rules of football but I’d make a rubbish footballer.

The same goes for the ‘British’ (a moot point in itself) values of ‘democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance’ that our political overseers want schools to promote. It’s hard to imagine that young people will get a good grasp of these by regurgitating a classroom lecture onto an exam paper.

Equally, we don’t learn simply by performing an action. Just because we can put a newspaper through a letterbox doesn’t mean we know what’s in it. The same goes for social action: we can enjoy giving, but giving alone does not educate us on the social implications – and, indeed, social complications – of doing so.

We commissioned the Education Company to ask nearly 500 teachers about their school’s charitable giving. The results suggest they do quite a lot to support outside causes, but the process often lacks educational rigour. ‘Non-uniform days’ are the most common form of charitable activities in schools, followed by ‘Educationally non-related’ activities. A much smaller proportion of schools run ‘fun days’, while ‘educational events’ come joint-bottom with ‘sporting events’.

And although schools are pretty good at giving money for charity, the amount they give is dropping. Six per cent of respondents say they are giving less than they did two years ago. While some teachers comment that their charitable giving is thriving, a common complaint is that people are getting tired of being approached for money.

So, are schools losing the incentive to support charity? Do they lack a clear link between social action in school and a school’s overall performance? In short, do they lack purpose?

This seems plausible. While schools report low levels of giving that have educational value, they actually want help to turn that around. In answer to the question, ‘What do schools most value in support of their charity work?, 43 per cent say they need ‘class-based activities that allow student initiative.’ This is followed closely by ‘more ways of connecting to local community opportunities’ (38 per cent).

In fact, this is probably one reason our Giving Nation programme is so successful. Giving Nation encourages classes of secondary school students to run sustainable social action programmes that develop their citizenship skills while also benefiting the community and society at large.

And other recent research, by Ipsos Mori, shows that more than two-thirds of young people engaging in ‘meaningful social action’ are introduced to it in school or college.

So, schools are key to effective social action and the will is there; but where’s the support from government?

The government seems intent on turning the one statutory curriculum subject designed to make sense of British values – citizenship – into the ‘dry and dusty’ civics that Michael Gove himself deplores. The citizenship curriculum at key stages 3 and 4 is much less active than before, and the proposed new GCSE puts a lot of emphasis on facts about law and Parliament and very little on ‘citizenship action’; in fact, it is omitted entirely from the proposed short-course GCSE. Reflecting this, Ofsted proposes to assess a mere 15 per cent of the citizenship GCSE as ‘citizenship action’, arguably too little to encourage teachers to pay it any real attention.

We at the Citizenship Foundation believe firmly that society will be stronger, with citizens more aware and engaged, if students are enabled to put their citizenship learning into practice. That includes giving schools more support for turning fundraising into more meaningful social action.