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Last August's controversial Pounds 3 million award from the National Lottery to help Eton College build a new athletics centre aroused widespread anger and concern that less well-off schools would not even reach the starting block.
Like other applicants for funds, schools normally have to raise a high proportion of the money themselves - upwards of 25 per cent if they are looking for a grant of more than Pounds 100,000, but 10 per cent or less for smaller bids. Few inner city schools could match Eton's fundraising capabilities But lottery bids are not just down to individual schools - they have to demonstrate the support of the local authority and community groups, and a sound financial case. And lottery funding cannot be used to replace local authority or grant-maintained school capital spending. It has to be an addition - a means of paying for an enhanced facility that is also available for public use. In Eton's case, the athletics centre is intended to benefit the community far more than the school itself. Supported by grants from the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead and Slough Borough Council, and built on a site donated by the college, the Pounds 4.5 million facility, administered by an independent trust, will supply the need for a regional sports centre. The college will only have access on weekday afternoons.
Meanwhile, how have other schools been making out?
Typical bids submitted to the Arts and Sports Councils, two of the five charitable bodies that distribute the lottery funds, are modest. Most are for upgrading sports facilities such as all-weather pitches, swimming pools, and sports halls for shared public use. And projects that have been given the go-ahead mainly cost from Pounds 100,000 to just over Pounds 1 million, while most awards are in the Pounds 100,000-200,000 range.
The Sports Council has approved 38 schemes totalling around Pounds 8 million and has many more bids in the pipeline. The Arts Council has made eight awards to schools - mainly for performance spaces - but community schemes that have been approved often have local schools' involvement; projects like children's theatres and arts centres.
Typical of schools' lottery funding is the Sports Council's award of Pounds 124,000 towards a Pounds 750,000 multi-sports hall at Clere School in Hampshire. Lionel Paris, community education officer responsib)e for co-ordinating the LEA's lottery bids, warns that schools need to consider fully the commercial implications of sharing a facility with the public. "If a school agrees to provide a facility that is open to the community outside school hours then it will have to bear the cost of developing and marketing it as well as providing a level of service members of the public would expect. But managing that facility also means schools will be able to raise revenue."
Like many authorities, Hampshire is adopting a pro-active approach to seeking lottery funding as a way of enhancing schools capital spending. And the authority insists that all bids are submitted first to the county for clearing to ensure schools have carried out all the necessary consultation with local community groups. Mr Paris says: "It's gathering momentum. The lottery is too good an opportunity to miss. If any school is putting forward plans for a capital project then we are looking to put in a bid."
Lionel Paris says that, on average, bids take six months to prepare. The authority assesses them according to an internal checklist which requires schools to gather support from arts bodies and their community. Only bids which have genuine popular support and which stand a chance of success are put forward.
But Mr Paris is unhappy at the way the lottery discriminates in favour of secondary schools. "There is a lot of concern among primary heads who feel they are losing out. The nature of primary school sites is such that their attraction as a community facility is limited whereas secondary schools with their bigger buildings and sports facilities are used a lot more by local people."
The bias towards secondary is borne out by the Sports Council figures. Out of 38 awards made to date, just one is to a primary school - and at Pounds 47,000 it is also one of the lowest. A Sports Council spokesman pointed to the fact that primaries would sometimes share facilities such as swimming pools with nearby secondaries, particularly when linked with a community school.
But Hampshire has not been ignoring its primaries and has come up with some imaginative lottery bids that will soon be chasing Arts Council approval. Four primaries have banded together with a secondary school on Hayling Island to make a Pounds 25,000 bid for a long-term sculpture project after collectively raising the initial 5 per cent.
Winchester-based Hampshire Sculpture Trust, one of only three such arts bodies in Britain, has already arranged for sculptor Claire Straiton to work with children to make straw maquettes - miniature studies for a full-size bronze statue that could be placed on public display if the lottery money comes through.
Polly Mason af the Hampshire Sculpture Trust says: "A sculpture is a capital project and pupils are actively involved in working with the artist who we chose not just for the quality of her work but for her ability to communicate and work with children.
"Making initial studies for the sculpture has involved pupils studying movement through dance and gymnastics."
And the Sculpture Trust is working with another primary - Buryfields in north-east Hampshire - on a lottery bid to improve landscaping of the school grounds. Ms Mason says: "Sculpture can be tailormade to suit an individual school's needs. In this case we are creating a sundial, a seat and a piece of sculpture."
And if you are wondering where the community involvement comes in, Polly Mason explains: "School children are the public; they are the citizens of tomorrow. And they are communities in their own right. We will be taking this idea up with the Arts Council and I'm hopeful they will accept our argument."
* The Sports Council, 16 Upper Woburn Place, London WC1H OQP. Lottery information pack and twice-yearly regional roadshows to schools * Seed Money Scheme, Funding Agency for Schools, Albion Wharf, 25 Skeldergate, York YO1 2LX (for GM schools) * ACE National Lottery pack and additional guidance for education and training establishments from the National Lottery Department, The Arts Council of England, 14 Great Peter Street, London, SW1P 3NQ * Hampshire Sculpture Trust (covers whole of south not just Hants),St Thomas Centre, Southgate Street, Winchester SO23 9EF.