Give and take
There is no Simon Cowell to whip the audience into a frenzy of excitement and no Susan Boyle to revere or ridicule. But the school version of Britain's Got Talent has something that the televised original cannot boast: a charitable motive.
Judged by three members of staff, the young contestants sing, dance or play in front of the entire school. But rather than being a money-spinner for Mr Cowell or ITV, the show has raised more than pound;400 for Women's Aid, which supports victims of domestic violence.
"The audience is incredibly supportive of the acts," says Beverley Birchley, vice-principal of the Duke of York's Royal Military School in Dover, Kent. This philanthropic attitude lies at the heart of the school's ethos. This year alone, its 440 pupils have raised more than pound;2,500 for various causes.
But school fundraising activities may soon be geared towards another target. Instead of concentrating on supporting charities, schools could find themselves having to raise money to support extra-curricular activities. Although core funding for schools is to be protected in the current spending squeeze, money for additional projects is likely to be in short supply.
"The knock-on effect is that fundraising is likely to become an increasingly important activity for schools," says Sarah Honeywell, a lead researcher at The Key, a support service for school leaders.
Mrs Honeywell says some schools are already using the services of a professional fundraiser to drum up cash for capital projects, such as building or equipping new classrooms, now the Building Schools for the Future scheme has been axed.
But just as schools turn to fundraising - not just for charitable causes but for extra resources as well - these external sources of funding, not just parents, but private companies too, are likely to shrink.
"The general climate of austerity will mean it is more difficult to raise money than it has been in the past," confirms Malcolm Probe, policy director at the Association of School and College Leaders.
Mr Probe says it is hard to predict the impact of the cutbacks on schools, but admits it will be difficult to raise the sorts of sums that would be needed to fill any serious shortfalls.
An increasing reliance on Parent Teacher Associations to plug any gaps could seriously disadvantage schools in less affluent areas, where parents are less able to contribute, he adds. But it also has the undesirable effect of downgrading one of the key benefits of fundraising: boosting pupils' social awareness.
The Duke of York's school, which became the country's first state-funded boarding academy in September, has traditionally catered for children of service personnel. Raising money for military-based charities, such as the British Legion, Help for Heroes and Scotty's Little Soldiers, lies close to its heart.
"It is a very important part of who we are," says Ms Birchley. "As a community, we are very conscious that our pupils' parents put their lives on the line. We have had very tragic situations, but these charities support the families, no matter what. It is incredibly important we give something back."
But while the sentiments are sombre, the fundraising itself remains light- hearted. Fetes involve "sponging" members of the senior management team, "human fruit machines" - where arms are pulled down to reveal the fruit - and pairing baby pictures or pets with teachers.
A "love magazine", published in-house on Valentine's Day, allows pupils to send messages to each other for a small fee. Almost every pupil buys a copy. This year, it raised about pound;450 for Help for Heroes.
"We believe fundraising should be an active rather than a passive activity," says Ms Birchley. "Instead of just asking for money, we make sure pupils create opportunities and enjoy and participate in events."
Hinchingbrooke School in Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire, follows similar principles. Under the watchful eye of the school's charity co-ordinator, it makes sure its fundraising projects are all pupil-led.
Pupils from its four houses decide on a charity each term or year - often choosing ones with a personal connection. The more money they raise, the more points they receive.
An annual summer enterprise day, which pupils prepare for the entire year - features stalls selling everything from rides on a slippery slide to food, books, branded mugs or henna paintings. This year's event made pound;2,400 in just one hour.
The Malawi Education Link, one of the school's registered charities, raised approximately pound;23,000 last year to enable Hinchingbrooke pupils to build and renovate schools in the African country. But there are signs that charity might have to begin closer to home.
Di Beddow, the deputy head, foresees problems under the new funding formula. To date, the school's PTA has been highly effective at raising money - recent successes include funding a pound;34,000 canopy structure in the playground.
In addition, the school's foundation, a fundraising trust, gives the school council pound;5,000 a year to invest in improvements. It also helps children from hard-up families to take part in extra-curricular activities and trips. But it is becoming more difficult to meet demand.
"Families are increasingly relying on our hardship fund for things on the extended school menu, such as football kit or money to join the scouts," explains Ms Beddow. "I know some schools ask for a small contribution from students entering the sixth form, which goes towards extra provision, but I would be loathe to do that. It would clash with our inclusive ethos."
Everyone is concerned about the impact the cuts will have on school budgets, agrees Stephen Green, head of Orford and Bawdsey primaries in Woodbridge, Suffolk. By sharing the most expensive member of staff - the headteacher - both schools have already made a saving.
But this has not saved extra-curricular activities, such as golf lessons provided through the local sports partnership, from the axe. Future fundraising may have to fill the gap, Mr Green concedes, but he is keen that it is not at the expense of developing a social conscience among pupils.
"We would want to raise money for good causes, no matter how difficult it gets," he says. "As church schools, it is central to our education."
That means raising money for those less fortunate, Mr Green says. Displaying and selling Bawdsey pupils' artwork at a professional gallery in nearby Aldeburgh raises about pound;7,000 a year for Cancer Research UK - not bad for a school with just 85 pupils on the roll.
A "penny race", where coppers are placed nose-to-nose for approximately 150 yards through the hall and around the playground, raises further funds for the school council's chosen charities.
"The pupils love doing things for others," says Mr Green. "They have the right motives at this age. All we do is provide the opportunity."
As well as raising money for national charities, fundraising for local causes allows pupils to see first-hand the benefits of their hard work. Luckily for Bawdsey, the school association is in a good position to help out with any additional in-house needs, such as a recent pound;1,800 adventure playground.
Private schools may appear to be in a less precarious position, but some believe the recession potentially threatens their very existence. Yet they too continue to find time for fundraising.
Radley College, an independent boys' school near Oxford, recently launched an Armed Forces Fund, which will offer an education to the children of those killed or wounded in service.
It comes after two prominent old boys - Lieutenant Colonel Rupert Thorneloe and Lieutenant Douglas Dalzell - were killed in Afghanistan. Downe House, near Newbury, and St Mary's Calne, in Wiltshire, are partners in the scheme, and will provide private education for the daughters of servicemen and women.
"Downe House is a competitor of ours, but we want to put that aside to work together and support our armed forces," says Lilian Leadbetter, director of development at St Mary's Calne. "It is still very much early days, but we will be looking to raise up to pound;250,000 per child as part of the bursary."
Radley College raised pound;100,000 in four days for the fund. The target across all three schools is to reach pound;5 million.
In addition to the Armed Forces Fund, St Mary's Calne established a foundation two years ago to contribute to school-based projects. It has already raised pound;500,000 for a new sixth-form centre, again through the generosity of its parents and alumni.
But will parents - even those that can afford the pound;9,650-a-year boarding fees at St Mary's Calne - be willing and able to contribute in the same fashion as the economy contracts? Ms Leadbetter is confident they will.
"Like most private schools, we are efficiently run, but once teacher salaries are paid there is not much left over," she says. "Up to 70 per cent of fees go towards top teachers and other professionals from the community, and all our profits are ploughed back into the school. Luckily, there is great generosity out there."
State schools are unlikely to be able to raise as much, whatever the cause. Traditional supporters - such as local companies that give either their time or money - may have to withdraw as they tighten their belts.
Mr Probe's "gut feeling" is that donations from all quarters will be down on last year. And he doubts whether it will be worth taking the time to release staff to supervise or organise major fundraising events for school resources.
"Schools would need to do some complex sums before they decide a teaching assistant would be more productive co-ordinating a fundraising event than helping in the classroom," he says. "They could manage to scrape together enough money for 100 new books or so in a 1,200-pupil school, but I can't imagine it would go much further than that."
While schools will carry on raising money for charities, it will be exceedingly difficult to fill the void left by shrinking budgets. But dwindling resources may make the temptation to switch fundraising from good causes to school staples simply unavoidable. In the absence of rich benefactors stepping forward, the conflict between developing community awareness and making sure schools can continue to offer a full range of activities is only likely to get worse.
HOW TO IMPROVE FUNDRAISING
- Consider employing or creating a business manager role with responsibility for funding and income generation.
- Create a funding strategy that includes next year's fundraising campaigns.
- Set out income targets in a written fundraising plan.
- Diversify and widen fundraising sources beyond parents.
- Improve fundraising skills. For example, the training organisation Fundraising Skills offers an e-learning course in income generation. www.fundraisingskills.co.uk.