Charity begins in schools

15th February 2008 at 00:00
Meet the 21st-century philanthropists who are pumping their millions into education. Susan Young finds out what makes them do it.

You've sold your business and got millions in the bank. Do you a) buy a yacht or b) spend serious money - and lots of your time - on trying to improve the education of children you have never met? You might think the answer is a no-brainer. But increasing numbers of wealthy people are deciding that what they want to do with their riches is put something back - and that means improving the life chances of others.

Education is the only area to have seen significant growth in charitable giving recently. Research conducted for The TES Magazine by the Charities Aid Foundation (CAF) shows average donations to education are three times larger than to other causes.

Almost pound;30m went to education through the foundation, which helps people and businesses donate efficiently, last year, and the total could easily be double that.

Donors can be controversial - they range from Sir Peter Vardy, the Christian car dealer whose backing of four academies has been accompanied by rows over creationism, to Rod Aldridge, the founder of Capita who resigned over accusations that political donations had led to his firm getting contracts.

But their cash has provided funding for academies, private scholarships, charitable donations and even the creation of charitable foundations working for change through research and direct action.

Julie Gayler of CAF says: "Education is the only cause to see a significant growth in the share of total amount given compared to the two previous years. The number of donations has risen by 7.6 per cent and the value by almost 20 per cent."

Once, three-quarters of the wealthiest inherited their money: now three-quarters earn it themselves and view it differently.

Susan McKenzie, director of Philanthropy UK, which advises would-be donors, says: "Wealthy people are not just giving more but wanting to give during their lifetime. They are making money earlier, they want to give not just money but time, and they want to see the impact."

Whereas inherited wealth is seen as family money, to be passed on, wealth creators see it as their own, and want to enjoy spending it, she says, adding: "Children will be taken care of and be comfortable, but parents don't want to ruin their lives with money. Education is a very popular cause."

So what drives this new breed of philanthropist? "Many have come from grammar school backgrounds," says Theresa Lloyd, philanthropy expert and author of Why Rich People Give. "They went to university, did well and made a lot of money.

"Then they saw friends who hadn't done so well doing whatever they could to get children into private school. Why were they doing it, what was wrong with the state school system from which they had all emerged?"

Peter Lampl founded the Sutton Trust (which he calls a "do tank") in 1997 after returning from America where he made his fortune. Sir Peter, knighted in 2003 for services to higher education, was shocked by the lack of social mobility and outraged that top academic schools appeared barred to the poor.

His approach is unusual in that the trust combines practical schemes (university summer schools for disadvantaged pupils) with funding headline-grabbing research into educational inequality to push change.

Some donors act in the belief that education will keep Britain's place in the world. "Others believe making a difference to individual lives is crucial, and there is some element of moral outrage at lost opportunities," says Theresa.

Those include Rod Aldridge, sponsoring an academy in Blackburn-with-Darwen and now in his home town of Brighton, who wants to avoid others being failed by school as he was, and Sir Peter Vardy, opening his fourth of six planned academies. He says: "We have one opportunity to educate children before they go on to be employees, managers or parents. These are their life chances and we have to take it seriously. This is not a dress rehearsal."

Those working in philanthropy-funded organisations can see the difference. Ian Brew, the headteacher of Trinity, the Vardy-backed academy in Doncaster, says the school benefits from its sponsor's hands-on involvement, and that he finds it useful to be able to call if he wants to talk through an issue.

"Sir Peter brings drive, enthusiasm and experience from working with his other academies over a number of years, and experience from making a success of his business.

"We don't have him constantly checking up on us, but he's there if we need him. He comes regularly and has a fantastic eye for detail." One recent visit, says Ian, was when Sir Peter organised a staff meal as a thank-you for a good Ofsted report.

Peter Vardy represents another common motivation: civic pride, which gets stronger away from London. He agreed to fund Emmanuel City Technology College for Margaret Thatcher because he wanted to put Gateshead on the educational map.

"The idea was to create a beacon of excellence. If we could show what good looked like and build and develop a successful school where children do well it would raise standards of education in Gateshead. Look at them now, it's sixth in the table of local authorities," says Sir Peter.

His faith is important too, although his schools' Christian values led to a 2002 row (which even found its way into Prime Minister's Question Time), over whether creationism was taught in science at Emmanuel.

"I have been fortunate building up a business and becoming wealthy. I think it's for a purpose - I am a Christian so I don't believe things happen by chance. I am not into yachts, we're working people. There's a great deal of fun in making things happen."

Not everyone though has a vision, says Lady Helen Hamlyn. "A lot of people are billionaires. People say we want to set up a foundation but don't know what to do, will you help us?

"The answer is find something you really care about and work on it. Anyone can sign a cheque and say goodbye."

Sir Peter Lampl

Worth: never says, but made his money as a venture capitalist in the United States.

How he's spending it: has put pound;20m into the Sutton Trust, which funds educational research and hands-on projects. One scheme found him paying fees at an independent school in Liverpool so that admission was based solely on merit. The school is now an academy.

Why he does it: "It's shocking what's happened to social mobility, I am just appalled by it.

"Once if you came from an ordinary background you could get as good an education but now it's very much related to the income of parents. It's a national catastrophe and there should be a national commission to look at it," he says.

Sir Peter Vardy

Worth: pound;150m, earned through building and sale of a chain of car dealerships.

Recent donations: pound;1.4m. The Vardy Foundation funds projects including academies in Gateshead, Middlesbrough, Doncaster, and Blyth, which opens next year.

What he gets out of it: "I really enjoy it. To pay pound;2m for a school, with the government funding another pound;20m so 1,200 children enjoy the best in education we can give them is fantastic."

Rod Aldridge

Worth: pound;106 million. Started Capita, which provides services for central and local government, and in the private sector.

Recent donations: pound;3.5m. Funds The Aldridge Foundation, which tackles under-achievement in education and social exclusion of the young.

Why he does it: "I have always had an interest in education because it gives people flexibility and the ability to do things.

"I had a tough education and suppose determination got me out of it. You are entitled to receive a good education. It's an emotional thing as much as anything."

What he believes: "I was let down by poor teaching. If I can qualify as an accountant at 22, why didn't I perform better at school?

"I wanted to create a school in Brighton where I was born. I wanted to put something back."

Lady Helen Hamlyn

Worth: pound;83m, largely earned through her marriage to Paul Hamlyn, creator of a publishing empire.

Recent donations: pound;4.8m. The Helen Hamlyn Foundation includes the Open Future project in which primary pupils grow, cook, eat (and film) their own food. See page 46.

Why she does it: "It is a huge privilege to have money. I think that was what brought my husband and I together in the first place - we both believed we were fortunate and that sharing was not only something that we wished to do, it is a responsibility."

What she gets out of it: "The lovely thing is to see the differences Open Future has made. Schools are thrilled how it is getting children interested in basic skills.

The whole point is to help them to be self-sufficient, self-confident and help their self-esteem, to feel proper little people with a purpose in their life because we all know the problems of youth crime in this country."

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