Opt-outs grow with seed money
The quango that oversees the finances of the grant-maintained sector is matching pound for pound money raised by GM primaries for curriculum-based capital projects.
The Funding Agency for Schools is backing schemes to build classrooms and learning support areas as well as improvements in science and information technology resources.
The York-based body is also giving Pounds 1 for every Pounds 2 raised by secondary schools in a new "seed money" grant scheme. It has just agreed 10 projects - six primary and four secondary - that will cost Pounds 1.85 million of which Pounds 1.15m is being provided by the schools .
The scheme, running as a one-year pilot, comes as many bids from opted-out schools for capital projects are being turned down by the FAS. This year 987 schools asked for cash for building work - just 248 were successful.
And although the Government allocated more capital funds to the GM sector this year - Pounds 130m compared to Pounds 115m in 1994-1995 - the number of opted-out schools increased by 222.
The FAS has taken Pounds 2m out of the Pounds 130m capital allocation for the seed money scheme. It is unclear whether it will be extended or eventually replace the full capital grants that are given to GM schools.
An FAS spokesman said: "It is just a matter of seeing what can be done with a small amount of capital and if we can get added value. We want to see if it works and if it does bring extra resources into the educational system. "
Opted-out primary schools can now bid for between Pounds 30,000 and Pounds 200,000 through the scheme and GM secondaries between Pounds 50,000 and Pounds 200,000.
Sir Christopher Benson, chairman of the FAS, said: "The seed money scheme has been introduced in order to encourage GM schools to develop projects which might otherwise be beyond their reach.
"The benefits of this new scheme are twofold - the creation of opportunities for schools to build practical and constructive relationships with their own communities and a reduced investment of public money."
Among the schools just awarded "seed money" is St Matthew's primary in the London borough of Enfield, which is to build an extra classroom.
The 170-pupil school had an earlier application for the classroom approved by Department for Education and Employment architects but the FAS was unable to fund it. The school decided to raise the Pounds 85,000 needed.
Governors said they would donate Pounds 20,000 from savings, a charitable trust set up to help with previous building projects offered Pounds 30, 000, the school's friends' association pledged Pounds 4,000, the building appeals committee Pounds 2,200 and a voluntary maintenance scheme in to which parents pay around Pounds 15 a year offered Pounds 3,000.
St Matthew's was well on the way to raising just over Pounds 59,000 when it heard about the seed money. The FAS will now give it Pounds 42,500 and the school is providing the same amount. About Pounds 20,000 has gone back into savings.
Dee Oelman, the headteacher, said: "This scheme has been a real boost for our school knowing that every pound we can fundraise the FAS will match.There are always going to be more capital bids than money as everyone always wants more. I think this was put forward as a genuine means of trying to assist schools that might be able to raise funds themselves."
Other primary "seed money" projects approved by the FAS include a new two-classroom block and toilets at Belmont primary, Derbyshire (Pounds 36,000 raised by the school was matched by the FAS); a learning support area at Butterwick Pinchbeck's primary, Lincolnshire (Pounds 30,500 raised); a science and technology extension at North West London Jewish primary school, Brent (Pounds 143,000 raised), and improvement of IT provision at Shelton junior, Derbyshire (Pounds 30,000 raised).
The secondary projects include a sports hall at Fitzwimarc secondary, Essex where the school raised Pounds 286,700 and the FAS gave Pounds 143,000; and the conversion of four classrooms to a business studies centre at Rickmansworth school, Hertfordshire (Pounds 130,000: Pounds 65,000).
It is understood that some local authorities, including East Sussex, are involved in similar school self-help schemes, although they may not be matching the cash raised by parents on a pound for pound basis.
Such schemes allow cash-strapped councils to support schools that are desperate for building and re-furbishment projects.