Future terms: What belongs within the school gates?

As the COVID-19 crisis continues, the critical role schools play in their communities has become clearer. Watch our expert panel unpack these services.

This panel aired on 28 January 2021:



Emilie Sundorph - Policy Officer at Teach First


  • Emmanuel Akpan-Inwang - Director of Lighthouse
  • Emma Bowman - Director of Children's Services at Barnado's
  • Tilly Browne - Primary Headteacher at Reach Academy Feltham
  • Anna Hennell James - CEO of Orwell Multi-Academy Trust


Words from the moderator

The past year has left no one doubting the enormous role schools play - not only in children’s lives, but in the lives of their parents and carers as well. The impact of school closures has gone beyond a shift to home schooling; it has reduced family contact with much of the support they need. Marcus Rashford’s impressive campaign drew attention to the struggles faced by many and the importance of free school meals, but the role of schools goes far beyond that.

Through our partner schools, Teach First are seeing first-hand how this role is increasing. From helping parents out with Universal Credit applications, to getting children to medical appointments to delivering mental health support, schools are taking on what they consider necessary to put their students in the best possible position to learn.

Although this expansion of services is controversial and outside of the traditional remit of schools, it appears the majority of teachers still want schools to offer more – if they have the resources for it. In a survey we commissioned in November, 68% of teachers said it would be beneficial for schools to embed more fully funded services for parents, such as social service support and CV & literacy sessions. This rose to 79% of teachers in the most disadvantaged schools.

But as schools are steadily taking on more and more non-academic support, it is important to pause and consider if this is the direction we want the education system to take – and if it is, what is needed to make a success of it.

To reflect on this, Teach First brought together a panel of four experts who have observed changes in schools over the past decade. While all panellists agreed that changes had been borne out of necessity and the inability of other services to cope with demand, it was also clear that there are certain benefits to integration. Parents often have greater trust in schools than in other services and there is no stigma attached to going into a school.

But there are challenges with the current direction of travel – not least in terms of resources. If schools are hiring qualified social workers, increasing their pastoral care teams, and providing services such as speech and language therapy, they inevitably see an impact on budgets. Added to this is the fact that schools with the most disadvantaged intakes have a greater need for these services, while already facing the biggest challenges when it comes to pupil attainment.

Panellists were united in the view that collaboration with other services is key but urged caution when it comes to schools taking on too much themselves. Not only would this challenge capacity, there are areas where other providers have greater expertise, for example within mental health provision. Still, the trend seems to be going in only one direction, and as schools are navigating these responsibilities, Tilly Browne from Reach Academy Feltham encouraged schools to “get to know people because they’re people, not because they’re vulnerable” if they want to build successful partnerships with families who can use their support.

Teach First will continue to investigate the evolving role of schools and what support is necessary for them to be sustainable and successful.

- Emilie Sundorph, Policy Officer at Teach First


Calling all teachers, school leaders and anyone interested in our education system's future – Teach First are bringing together experts from across the sector to explore its most pressing issues and emerging ideas, in our Future Terms panel series.

Our monthly events are a chance to look ahead and discuss what we can do together to help build a fairer education.

Each panel lasts an hour, with time for you to ask questions. If you can’t make the live event, register to attend and we’ll send you a recording via email. Sign up below to join in – all are welcome and attendance is free.

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