When Brownhills high school tried to raise sponsorship for specialist status, it approached local boy Robbie Williams, but he turned them down.
Teachers at the Stoke-on-Trent comprehensive also held a lavish breakfast for local businessmen but only two people came, one of whom they already knew.
Three years ago, Office for Standards in Education inspectors placed Brownhills in special measures. Now it is the sixth most improved school in England but its quest for sponsorship in an area blighted by the decline of the pottery industry is proving tough.
The school's story is told in a BBC4 documentary, Raising the Standard, to be shown on Monday.
If it succeeds in finding pound;50,000, it will get a one-off government grant of pound;100,000 and then an extra pound;126 per pupil for four years.
The Government hopes all 3,100 secondary schools in England will eventually specialise in a particular subject area such as the arts, maths, technology or sport.
Charles Clarke, the Education Secretary, confirmed the Government's belief in the involvement of private firms in education on Radio 4 this week. He was responding to Doug McAvoy, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, who said the Government wanted to privatise schools and run them "like Tesco stores".
The programme underlines the difficulties some schools face in raising money. Staff discuss the possibility of getting Robbie Williams, originally from Stoke, to help with their plight but the teenage pin-up has already donated pound;50,000 to his old school, St Margeret Ward RC high school, towards it becoming an arts specialist school, and he said no.
The school holds a breakfast meeting to get local businesses on board, but on the day Sue Chesterton, the head, is heard saying: "Only two people have turned up and one of them I know."
She later tells the cameras: "The area is made of the pottery industry or what has remained of it. There just isn't the money."
Chris Hall, the deputy head, tells the film crew that, with pound;115 in the coffers, the school will not meet the next day's deadline for its bid for specialist status in maths and information technology.
Mrs Chesterton told The TES this week: "We have managed to raise pound;750 from businesses, and pupils have raised pound;1,100 in just an hour and half. We have to keep chipping away, knowing that we're not a wealthy school. We'll just have to go that extra mile."
While Brownhills is trying to raise standards and the much-needed cash, a neighbouring school is poaching pupils at an alarming rate, she says. Yet Brownhills' GCSE results are better.
Mrs Chesterton said: "Last summer, for example, parents who had places with us were being approached as late as June and July. We would never try to get children from another school's catchment area.
"Parents were asking me if we were trying to get rid of children, which is far from the case. But the school in question is taking about a class worth of children each year, around 20 to 25 pupils. They are just creaming off the wealthier students from the catchment area."
Brownhills' progress, however, is impressive. Last summer 46 per cent of students achieved five A* to C grades.
Three years ago, morale was at an all-time low, the school was relying on temporary staff and only 9 per cent of its students managed to get five or more GSCEs above C grade.
Teachers still face a daily battle to motivate bright but under-achieving pupils.
Sam, an obviously bright school girl, is disenchanted with school and has been a total of 325 minutes late for lessons this year.
Yet she has already achieved a B in a GSCE she took a year early.
Mrs Chesterton said: "We really had to change everyone's expectations.
We're always seeing how we can do it better. We haven't stopped even 12 months on, and we're still doing the same hard work."
"Raising the Standard" on BBC4 next Mondy, 19 April at 9pm