THE SOUND of drilling in the school playground makes conversation with Anthony McNamara difficult. The drills are preparing the ground for two science laboratories being built as the result of a bid by St Augustine's High School in Billington, Lancashire, for Pounds 655,000 to help accommodate an extra 100 pupils. That's the good news.
The bad news is the time it took to reach this stage. To make a case for the money, Mr McNamara, the headteacher (pictured), had to visit every primary school in the area, talk to planning officers in several local education authorities, carry out surveys and analyse the pupil intake to St Augustine's. It took the equivalent of about 14 working days, he estimates, spread over a year. It resulted in a detailed 20-page report.
"The stakes are very high," he says. "The expectation of heads is that they will deliver the goods.
"It was very stressful because if we weren't successful we faced the prospect of having to cram more pupils into an increasingly overcrowded school."
Even so, the bid was not the most demanding the school has had to work for. And it was successful, so it was worthwhile.
Of the several dozen bids Mr McNamara recalls having to make in his four years as head, he says the attempt to gain cash out of the National Lottery fund for the school hall was the worst. Again, there were numerous visits, committee meetings, reports and questionnaires. But the money was not forthcoming. It was, Mr McNamara says, "a monumental waste of time".
Other unsuccessful bids have included Pounds 20,000 to re-equip the school for children with disabilities and Pounds 100,000 under the new deal initiative to update some workshops which have remained unchanged since 1964. Every year, the school routinely bids for money to enlarge the turning circle at its entrance on the grounds that it is dangerous.
The school is popular and over-subscribed, with 16 of its staff sending their children there. Sixty per cent of pupils gain the top GCSE grades.
Several rooms were in urgent need of refurbishment and aging equipment needed to be replaced, an otherwise glowing OFSTED report said in 1995. A problem for schools such as St Augustine's is that much of the money available through bids depends on gaining matching funds from local industry. That puts areas such as rural Lancashire at a disadvantage.
"It's very demoralising," says Mr McNamara. "It makes us very angry. We hear the rhetoric from the Government about the extra money going into schools, but we're barely able to keep up. The problem is that we haven't got a local firm to be a sugar daddy, and if you haven't got that you might as well be chasing moonbeams."