Raise you a thousand

5th January 2001 at 00:00
A cash-strapped head decided her fitness gave her a winning hand when it came to raising funds. Matthew Brown reports.

When Cath Keohane started as head of Briar Hill lower school in Northampton last September, she immediately ran smack into the modern-day head's most common headache - money.

Briar Hill serves a large council estate on the edge of town. "It's a modern school," says Ms Keohane. But the estate is beset with the usual problems of crime, drugs and unemployment. She quickly saw that the school needed a new reading scheme, one that would be relevant to the reality of her pupil's lives. It was a need Ofsted had also identified in an otherwise positive report the previous January.

"The old scheme was dated," she says. "The stories were set in a village and the pictures didn't relate to our children or where they live."

Trouble was, Cath Keohane had also inherited a budget shortfall. The school's usual roll of 300 had fallen to 230, which left her with no spare cash to buy new materials.

"I wanted to use the Oxford Reading Tree scheme," she says. "I'd used it at my previous school." One teacher offered to hand over her literacy budget to buy the materials, but the new head had another idea.

"I decided to raise the money myself through a sponsored event. Then at least the parents would see the new headteacher was committed to their kids."

So, less than two months later, Ms Keohane arrived at her local leisure centre at 7.30am aiming to complete her own four-discipline event. She set about cycling, climbing, rowing and swimming, one after the other, for 1,000 metres - each.

It took a while, but she was up to the challenge and made it to school by 9.30am wearing clean trainers, jogging bottoms and sweat shirt - "so the kids would know I'd done it".

A long-time member of a fitness club ("You need to keep fit to do this job"), Cath Keohane chose to attempt multiples of ,000 metres, partly because she knew she could do it, but also because the children could grasp how far it was and be impressed enough to gather sponsors. It worked.

"They really took to the idea," she says. "Every child took a form home, and some parents took them to work to get money. One little boy even gave me his 25p sweetie money."

The new head's physical exertions raised pound;880, which, with pound;500 left from a previous fund-raising effort, has paid for all the basic necessities of the new scheme - teaching materials and reading books for each of the school's five year groups - and a new set of puppets, "our one luxury".

What's more, by spending more than pound;1,000 the school benefited from a 20 per cent discount - so it's been able to buy yet more books.

"The teachers are pleased with the new scheme," says Ms Keohane. "And the children are more positive about reading.They are really eager."

The Oxford books, she says, contain characters and situations the children can relate to, such as a little boy buying new trainers and pictures of modern bikes that look like those they own. "They're everyday situations and the children love reading about them."

Not that the success of Cath Keohane's 4,000-metre "marathon" has taken the edge off her bitterness at having to do it. "I'm a great believer in fund-raising," says the teacher of 23 years. "But once we did it for luxuries; now it's the bread-and-butter stuff.

"In the past, things were a lot easier to come by; we had more freedom with our budgets. We certainly don't waste money, but it would be nice to have a bit more so there is some extra when we need it. It's unfair that funding depends on the number of children you have. Some things schools need do not depend on the roll - they're basics."

She may be only a few months into the post, but Cath Keohane has already proved she's a headteacher who's more than fit for the job.

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