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Going the whole hog

Want to raise money for your school? Holding a professional art exhibition or selling swimming lessons are alternative ways of fundraising, as Fiona Leney reports

Art exhibitions, helicopter trips and belly dancing school fundraising has come a long way from the traditional "fete worse than death". A little imagination, and a lot of energy, can bring in impressive sums even at small village schools looking for ways to pay for extras such as covered play areas, extra sports equipment and additions to libraries.

Some of the most ingenious ideas link raising money with providing an immediate benefit to pupils such as the swimming project at a Brighton primary school, where the parents' association buys three swimming lesson sessions at the local pool every Saturday morning and sells them on to parents. The result is two-fold the school gets a good little earner, and it's easy for pupils to learn to swim inexpensively.

"We charge parents pound;3.50 a session, which is a fraction of what they'd pay for lessons," says Chris Williams, the parent running the scheme for Balfour Infants School Association (BISA). "Getting kids to swim is an important core skill especially living near the sea and we make a reasonable profit for the school," he says.

The money contributes to funds raised and administered by BISA, which meets monthly with the school head to consider a "wish list" of possible extras for the children. Recent purchases have included play equipment and flotation vests for the swimmers.

Chris is clear that the purpose of fundraising is not to provide facilities or equipment that ought to be supplied by the local authority. It's a point supported by the National Council of Parent Teacher Associations (NCPTA).

Laura Warren, NCPTA communications manager, says that PTAs exist to add value to what a school can provide. "If a school didn't have a PTA, it would still exist and function. But PTAs are successful at providing extra resources that schools may not otherwise have at enriching what the school can offer," she says.

But what about small schools or those in less affluent areas? While the wealth of an area is a factor, two small schools at opposite ends of the country prove that the key to fundraising is more a question of imagination and bringing in the punters.

Doddiscombsleigh Primary School in Devon raised more than pound;18,000 from its last art exhibition despite having only 50 pupils on roll. The exhibition, it must be said, was not of the children's art, but of local professional artists.

The school's PTA first contacted local professional artists in 2002, offering to exhibit their work in return for a 20 per cent commission on sales. The event was such a success that since then the parents have been able to increase their commission to 30 per cent.

Henrietta Vercoe, the parent in charge of the venture, says everyone gets a good deal. "Commercial galleries take 50 to 60 per cent commission, so the artists are happy. People can buy great work in unusual surroundings, and we make far more money than we otherwise could, because it's bringing in a wider public."

Publicity is key. Because of this, the school has forged links with local art centres, including the Devon Guild of Craftsmen. It spreads the word and lends equipment for exhibiting the works, which include ceramics and jewellery.

The children have also benefited, with artists coming into school to do projects unconnected with the exhibition. "Over the October break we clear out four classrooms and the hall for the exhibition. The night before it opens we hold a private viewing, with wine donated by the local pub. On the day, as well as art sales, we run a gallery shop and cafe," says Henrietta.

The money raised has been put aside for an ambitious covered play area the school is building out of sustainable materials, complete with an amphitheatre for productions.

Sandgate School in Kendal, Cumbria, is a school for children with severe special needs. Again, it is tiny with 56 pupils but has managed to raise Pounds 160,000 over two years to build an intensive sensory room and specialist playground. Janet Crowe, the chairwoman of the school's PTA, lists an impressive number of fundraising activities. A personal favourite, she admits, was the belly-dancing.

Sicklinghall Primary in North Yorkshire, a few miles from Wetherby, is another small school with 60 pupils that punches above its weight in fundraising.

Betty Fox, the headteacher, agrees that it is vital to look outside the parent base to bring in serious money if you are a small school. "We have a PTAFA parent, teachers and friends association," she says.

As well as the big money spinners a recent ball that raised pound;5,000 the school also holds events such as an end-of-term hog roast and the "Beetle drive", where families compete to put the plastic beetle together according to numbers rolled on a dice. This may not be a big earner, but is both fun and educational for the children. Most PTAs are registered as charities too, making Gift Aid a good way of maximising income by claiming tax back from the Inland Revenue.

Go to private schools and you're looking at a rather different scale of event. The Hall Prep School in Hampstead, London, held a fundraising concert given by the parent of one of its pupils recently the world-famous pianist Alfred Brendel at Lambeth Palace. And Eton reminds benefactors in a newsletter that "gifts of shares can be given on very favourable terms. Legacies are welcome, and completely free from inheritance tax."

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