We’ll be bring live updates of our event today, exploring the relationship between schools and universities and asking what do the government’s proposed school reforms mean for universities.
We have some questions from the floor, touching on the topics of competition, conflicts of interest, and measuring success. One delegate suggests that there could be a tendency in university sponsored to schools to make HE progression the only measure of success. Judy argues that in her experience the university has been happy to take a broader approach, measuring success by developing skills and focusing on science in particular. The school and the university are happy with a range of positive outcomes, not just higher education and university entry, even though the improvement in the school has led to more school leaves getting into HE.
On competition, Guy notes that this is a challenge when a university has an education department whose teacher train programmes might be competing with school-centred teacher training programmes. However, bringing everyone together to look for opportunities for collaboration in this area means that it can be addressed. He also points out that UWE’s widening participation activities have continued in other schools in parallel with their sponsorship activities.
Ant asks Judy what she knows now that she wishes she had at the outset. She notes that universities are very aware of risk, and thus decision making can be a little more laborious when a university is on board. Paradoxically, many staff in universities think that running a school will be more flexible than it actually is. Schools have to be aware of curricula, league tables, and the pressures on teachers.
Guy’s key tip is for universities to ‘stay focused’ on the core business of improving the schools that they become responsible for. If universities are successful at running schools they com under a lot of public and political pressure to expand their sponsorship to new schools and build their empires. You should be wary of this, and there is definitely a risk if that if the implementation of this policy is successful then universities will come under a lot of pressure to run even more schools. We should try to avoid snowballing.
Joining Chris Millward on our panel are Guy Keith-Miller of the University of the West of England, one of the first universities to be involved in sponsoring schools, and Judy Rider, Principal of Brompton Academy, which is sponsored by the University of Kent. Notably, Brompton Academy is within a selective system in Kent.
Rider: “I am a great advocate of university sponsorship – it has worked wonders”. However, “it doesn’t work if it is just about governance”, even if the Deputy Vice Chancellor is chair of the Board of Governors. What does work is empowering staff and students within the university to interact with the school, particularly on curriculum projects. Brompton also has over 1000 parents coming in to classes after hours run by university lecturers, which can make a massive difference to the social aspirations of families and pupils. On attainment, the school has drastically improved and is now one of the top 20% of schools nationally, and the most oversubscribed school in Kent and Medway. All that said, it’s a hard graft in the early years.
We’re back with Chris Millward, who suggests some challenges for the government in implementing its proposed new policy. There are a lot of outstanding questions that the goverment will need to consider:
- How will FE colleges that charge higher fees be involved in school sponsorship, especially when schools are often their direct competitors?
- Will universities maintain their existing relationships with schools they do not sponsor?
- Are there enough universities to make a real difference to the challenges that the schools’ sector faces?
- How will the policy be sensitive to the local and unique needs of schools and universities across the country?
Tim Allen of York Consulting has conducted recent research on behalf of HEFCE into university-sponsored schools, looking at difference institutions, different sponsorship models, and different challenges that universities have faced.
Of the 20 universities involved in the study, there was a roughly even split between ‘lead sponsor’ and ‘co-sponsor’ roles (mostly with blue-chip employers, local authorities, charities, and FE colleges), and most were involved in ‘single institution’ or ‘multi institution’ sponsorships.
Why have universities become school sponsors? There appear to be three main reasons:
- To raise attainment
- To collaborate with industry and employers to address skills gaps
- To improve the social capital of the local area
What are the benefits for schools and universities? Well, both appear to have reported several benefits – whether they are precisely causal is unclear, but universities do appear to have played a role in supporting improvements in facilities, staff morale, governance, and leadership. What about attainment? That is less clear, but the researchers came to the view that there was “compelling qualitative evidence” that universities’ involvement really did help or looked set to help improvements. For universities, they reported that their local reputation was improved, and that they had a far better understanding of the schools’ sector and the challenges it faces. They also reported opportunities for skills development for both their staff and their students.
Nonetheless, there were challenges and constraints. Universities reported putting far more time into their school sponsorship efforts than they expected, and (at least initially) were unclear about the respective roles and responsibilities of school management and the sponsors. Finally, there is very much awareness of the risk involved, particularly to a university’s reputation.
Most respondents reported that the benefits of school sponsorship, on the whole, outweighed the drawbacks.
Chris Millward, Director (Policy) at HEFCE takes us through some of the reasons why the government has decided to make universities get more involved in schools. Universities are perceived to be financially prosperous relative to other areas of the public sector, particularly as a result of tuition fees. The government are also frustrated with progress in widening access, and after being regularly told by the sector that improving schools attainment is the biggest contributing factor to this slow progress, they have asked universities to be a part of the solution. There is also the matter of finding a wider range of stable and secure school sponsors.
Yet, as Chris points out, university schools do not necessarily outperform other schools overall. There are some examples of excellence and success, but it does not come cheap – it takes time, investment, and dedication.
And so we with a welcome from Dr Janet Hannah, CEO of Coventry University London, our kind hosts for today. She points out that there perhaps has never been a comparable time where the pace of change in UK universities has beens so great, and when the wider political context points towards severe social and educational divides. These are issues that we will be addressing today.
Also welcoming our guests is Wonkhe’s Director Mark Leach, who notes that the government’s schools White Paper feels like it was released a long-time ago – only a couple of months ago in fact… Nonetheless, there is plenty to discuss, and plenty to debate. It should be a fascinating day.
To whet your appetite, we’ve had a number of articles on Wonkhe dedicated to the topic of universities and schools:
- Time to lead the universities and schools agenda – Mark Leach
- Universities, grammar schools and the week that social mobility went askew – David Morris
- University-sponsored schools not guaranteed to make the grade – Joel Mullan
- Universities should seek more creative relationships with schools – Graham Galbraith
We have a fantastic range of speakers lined up for today:
- Les Ebdon, Director of Fair Access
- Chris Millward, Director (Policy), HEFCE
- Tim Allan, York Consulting
- Eireann Attridge, Access and Funding Officer, Cambridge University Students’ Union
- Dr Janet Hannah, CEO, Coventry University London Campus
- Nick Hillman, Director, Higher Education Policy Institute
- Guy Keith-Miller, Head of Academy and Trust Partnerships, University of the West of England
- Judy Rider, Principal, Brompton Academy (sponsored by University of Kent)
- Professor Peter Vukusic, Associate Dean for Education of the College of Mathematics, Engineering and Physical Sciences, University of Exeter
Good morning – today’s event will begin at 10am. We’ll be beginning our updates from then.