Beyond the bazaar
Yet with pressures on school budgets growing ever greater, those days are fast disappearing. All too often money is need not for luxuries, but for essentials such as maths books and staff. "We've got to start moving beyond the bazaar, " says Anne Mountfield, assistant director of the Directory of Social Change and author of the newly revised and invaluable handbook School Fundraising: What You Need to Know.
"The fetes and the jumble sales and great if you're trying to build up a relationship with the parents and have a bit of fun and raise some money along the way, but if you're going for real money you have to look elsewhere. "
"Elsewhere" is increasingly wide-ranging. Not only are schools queuing up to apply to funding bodies such as the National Lottery, the Arts Council, the Sports Council and to diverse national and European government schemes, but they are investigating commercial opportunities, and even entering into direct trading themselves. Judith Wood, chairman of the National Confederation of Parent Teachers Associations, which represents more than 11,000 schools, is dubious about some of the ventures being made.
"There are a lot of radical things going on: some are kosher, some are borderline," says Mrs Wood. "A company came to one of our fairs encouraging schools to buy fruit wholesale and sell it on to parents. It was a bit like a book club - which are also quite popular in schools - but with fruit. One month it might be plums, the next month mangoes.
"How good this was, and how safe, I don't know. Schools might not like to run the risk - but it was at least healthy."
Selling advertising space inside schools - perhaps with dedicated poster sites, perhaps on books - is another option being touted. Many companies are desperate to sell their products to young consumers. However, some schools fear it could lead to ethical problems. More widespread among confederation members is the now familiar practice of applying for grants - one of which, the Hammond Book Fund, is actually being distributed this year by the NCPTA itself. The confederation has Pounds 100,000 to give away to schools to buy books - and the confederation's attitude to the torrent of applications gives some helpful pointers. "The deadline wasn't until the end of October, but with a fortnight to go we already had applications to the tune of Pounds 340,000 from around 340 schools," says Mrs Wood.
"Some are just asking for Pounds 40 - they will almost definitely get what they ask for. The school that's asked for Pounds 5,000 probably won't get any."
But the confederation does promote a scheme which should guarantee some income for every school that participates, the Children in School affinity card.
This credit card scheme was launched last year in association with the Bank of Scotland, and operates much like many other affinity card schemes run by charities. Parent-teacher associations or schools that wish to participate are sent letters explaining the scheme, which they then forward to parents.
If parents' applications are accepted, dependent on their credit worthiness, they are granted a Children in School Mastercard. Not only does their school receive Pounds 2.50 for every Pounds 1,000 spent, but the school receives Pounds 7.50 for every parent who receives and uses their card, along with a Pounds 50 bonus for every 10 card members from the school, and an additional Pounds 20 for every 20 enrolled in the scheme. If 20 parents enrol, a school could make Pounds 320 in the first year alone.
Philip Rowley, formerly chairman of the PTA of Foley Infant School in Kinver, Staffordshire, and now the head of Children in School, the body established to administer the card scheme, says that he is disappointed with the slow take-up of his brainchild since it was launched in September last year. Just 83 schools have so far signed up. Mr Rowley said: "I expected a lot more because it's a wonderful opportunity to make funds automatically.
"And the spending on the cards is encouraging - it's higher than usual for credit cards. People are using them to support their school. But some school don't like the idea of encouraging parents to take on a credit card" Mr Rowley's scheme looks sure to grow: but the cards are still unlikely to solve all of a school's problems. St Augustine of Canterbury School in Taunton, however, is evidently hoping that just a single step will be the answer to its dreams - the appointment of the state school system's first full-time fundraiser, Paul Gibbs. Mr Gibbs, who worked in classified advertising until his appointment last year, says that a number of other schools are set to take the same step. He spent much of his first year raising the profile of the school plus security sponsorship for sports kit - but his biggest concern is raising Pounds 75,000 towards new buildings. The fact that the buildings are already up doesn't help his campaign, giving it a lack of focus, but he has fired off applications to some 16 trusts, which he found in the Directory of Grant-Making Trusts, published by the Charities Aid Foundation.
"You send off a fairly detailed letter - then sit back and wait," he says. "But there's no point in applying for every grant going: we went through looking for things specific to the South-west, or to education or religion."
The governors of the school would not sanction an appeal for tax-efficient covenants from parents, as they felt it was unfair, but Mr Gibbs has other projects. Deals with software companies promise commission if software used prominently at the school is adopted elsewhere.
He is considering black-tie dinners for local business people. He plans to sell tickets at up to Pounds 30 a time, and talks of a profit of Pounds 2,000 - but to draw in the crowds he will need a quality speaker, and quality speakers cost thousands. The school would be taking a risk - something it is not doing by employing Mr Gibbs, incidentally, since he is paid by results.
Just how much the fundraisers of Britain's schools are contributing towards the educational budget remains a mystery. The Department for Education and Employment says it has no idea.
Anne Mountfield of the Directory of Social Change is about to launch into a project which will attempt to measure the total - but meanwhile she is continues helping schools to avoid the pitfalls that litter the path to potential riches. She says, the climate is changing, with many schools thinking the previously unthinkable. "A few years ago schools were saying 'Should we or shouldn't we?' " says Mrs Mountfield. "Now they're saying. "We shouldn't - but we have to, so let's get on with it."
She advises schools to always try to limit waste before indulging in complicated fundraising schemes - "The number of schools that have raised money by installing a water meter never ceases to amaze me," she says - and says that partnership ventures with other agencies in the area often have the best chance of success.
And she has a final warning not only schools watch out for the law if they are going into trading or other unusual ventures, but they should ensure their fundraising activities do not run out of control.
"The old-fashioned jumble sale helped to create closer links between school and community," she says. "At worst, modern fundraising methods may drive away the very parents the school wants to attract."
Books and contacts * School Fundraising: What You Need to Know, by Anne Mountfield, (Pounds 12.95) - handbook packed with tips and advice, published by the Directory of Social Change.Tel: 0171 2095151.
* FUNdraising: 'We did it our way!' by Peter Bewell, (Pounds 7.95) - how a Leeds school raised Pounds 150,000, published by Bewcraft and available from the Directory of Social Change.
* Children in School Mastercard, details on freephone 0800 181941.
* The Charities Aid Foundation, publisher of the Directory of Grant Making Trusts.Tel: 01732 520000.