Resourceful but financially hard-pressed students, teachers and parents would do well to consider applying to some of the hundreds of national, local and parochial charities that offer grants linked to broadly educational aims.
A trawl through the current edition of The Educational Grants Directory reveals an astonishing variety of sources of funding outside statutory provision, for schoolchildren through to postgraduates, overseas students and mature students wishing to retrain.
No fewer than 950 local and parochial charities between them give more than Pounds 7.5 million a year to individuals with education needs.
The Darbishire House Trust in Greater Manchester, for example, was set up to provide for unqualified women teachers who had no entitlement to a pension. As such a category no longer exists, the trust now offers one-off grants of up to Pounds 500 for women within Greater Manchester, particularly those who have taken time out from their careers to have children, who wish to retrain as teachers or enter other professions.
Aspiring musicians in Hartlepool can seek grants from the Preston Simpson Scholarship in Music to pay for study, the purchase of instruments or travel. The fund was established in 1918 by Mary and Robert Simpson on behalf of their son Preston, who was killed during the First World War.
Musicians have the choice of numerous funds, local and national, which offer help towards buying instruments. One father, himself a fund administrator, whose son played a costly double bass, said: "I worked out that my son could apply to 14 trusts."
National sources range from Erasmus, which offers mobility grants of up to 2,500 Ecu (Pounds 2,130) to European Community students wishing to study in member states, to the Fishmongers' Company, a City of London livery company whose first charter dates back to the 13th century. It hands out Pounds 30,000 a year - the maximum individual grant is Pounds 1,800 - to help with school fees for children with special needs.
Like the Darbishire House Trust, many of these trusts have discovered that the brief dictated by their original founders is too limiting for modern times. They have worked with the Charity Commissioners to broaden their remit and enable the money to be used to carry on helping those in need. For example, there are many "Protestant" funds which now provide for a geographical area rather than members of the Protestant faith.
David Casson, co-editor of the educational grants directory, said that demand on many of the charities is now very great, because of the decline in local education authority discretionary awards, growing student debt and the effect of government legislation on low-income families. However, he added, "Creative use of a small grants programme can have benefits far in excess of its monetary value."
There are about 270 national charities which offer a total of more than Pounds 30 million a year in education grants to individuals. The Church College Trusts were founded in the 1970s when the Church of England teacher training colleges were closed down. Money from buildings and land was invested in 11 trusts which together administer nearly Pounds 2 million a year in grants.
To take one example, the All Saints Educational Trust contributes to fees, books, maintenance and travel for people wishing to become teachers or for teachers wishing to retrain or change their specialism. A student seeking to train or retrain in religious education is looked on favourably, but other specialities are not excluded.
The trust also offers help to people wishing to train as dieticians or in the teaching of home economics. It funded the British Nutrition Foundation to produce teaching packs for use in schools and offered pump-priming to a group of London boroughs that wanted to establish a religious education adviser. From 280 enquiries a year when the trust was founded, it now receives more than 7,000 applications for funds of one sort or another.
The Rev Dr John Gay, secretary of the Association of Church College Trusts, said trusts were able to make a significant difference "at the margins". They were not in the business of relieving public funds, or offering top-up maintenance for first degrees, but they could "make things happen that wouldn't otherwise happen". Trusts are growing more proactive, Dr Gay said, and becoming clearer about what they wanted to do.
The growth in second degrees, retraining and in-service training means that more people are chasing funds, and trusts in turn are becoming more specific about what they were prepared to fund.
Before an application is even considered most educational trusts will want proof that all statutory means of obtaining funds have been exhausted. They are increasingly unwilling to offer basic support, which they deem to be the duty of the state.
The Educational Grants Directory is available, priced Pounds 15.95 plus Pounds 2.50 pp, from the Publications Department, Directory of Social Change, 24 Stephenson Way, London NW1 2DP