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Case study: Greensward college

Greensward college primarily serves the villages of Hockley and Hawkwell in south-east Essex. There are 26 secondary schools within a 12-mile radius, so the competition for pupils is strong.

Hockley is relatively affluent, with less than 3 per cent of families claiming free school meals. Our major challenge has been recurrent funding.

Ofsted has described us as a "well run business" and perhaps it is that mantra, coupled with the lack of funding, that has inspired us to become more commercially focused.

I became principal in April 1994, a year after Greensward became grant-maintained. Buildings needed urgent attention and staff were working in a depleted teaching environment, so I set about finding the resources to free the teachers and support staff to do their work effectively. Our first - and almost last - dip into direct sponsorship was in 1995, when we successfully applied to become a specialist technology college, raising the pound;100,000 we needed to match the potential government grants. Since then we have received almost pound;1 million extra funding as a specialist college. The lesson to be learned from this is that schools should try to get involved in government initiatives as early as possible. There will never be a "right time"; we should always be scanning the horizon to see what else is coming around the corner.

The school is a founder member of the South-east England virtual education action zone, and we have beacon school status and teacher training status.

As a direct result of being part of an education action zone, Greensward now also receives the leadership incentive grant.

Private foundations are also a potential source of additional capital funding. In 1997 we made a successful bid to the Wolfsen Foundation for support in developing our science laboratories. Since then several members of staff have successfully approached a variety of foundations and charitable institutions to fund, for instance, support for computer rooms and a digital data projector.

The core of our additional private income now comes from direct earnings.

In September 1998 we took out a private loan to open a purpose-built and privately owned sports centre, which includes a dance studio, community centre and fitness centre. The business plan for repayment was based on development of the fitness centre as a viable and profit-making company.

By September 1999 I saw another opportunity to generate income and persuaded the governors to support us to set up the first regional academy for Cisco computer networking in a UK school. Forty-three schools now form Greensward's regional academy, which has become the largest in Europe.

Cisco courses will receive accreditation from September 2003, which will attract additional Learning Skills Council funding.

Schools are open for teaching for just 13 per cent of the school year.

We're trying to gain a far greater return on what has been a huge investment in building stock and this financial year we estimate that we will earn more than pound;70,000 through letting the college's facilities.

Private consultancy also now features. For the past three years, I and my three vice-principals have all been heavily involved in supporting schools facing challenging circumstances. I've worked with a range of private companies, generating much-needed income for Greensward, while giving me some extraordinary professional development. My latest engagement is with the Greig City Academy, in the London borough of Haringey, where I'm acting as consultant principal. Other Greensward senior leaders have worked with schools in Basildon and Luton.

The approach Greensward College has taken to income generation has been to welcome financial support from any quarter but, as far as possible, to take control to create sustainable and controllable funding streams.

David Triggs is principal of Greensward college, Essex

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