Teacher with the Midas touch;Briefing;School management

11th June 1999 at 01:00
Nick Chambers is worth his weight in gold, reports Gerald Haigh

Two years ago, Lancaster Royal Grammar School became one of the first state schools to appoint a development director.

People have done this job at independent schools and universities under various titles. Now this 900-pupil boys' technology college has joined them. It seems that greater control of budgets at school level, growing interest in business links and sponsorship, and the increasing need to make competitive bids for funds are making the argument for having development professionals in the state sector.

Nick Chambers' job is to raise money for the school, by contacting local business, pursuing former pupils for donations and legacies, selling sweatshirts and becoming expert in the ways that schools can bid for money.

Fundraising is undoubtedly important at Lancaster Royal, which is about to open a pound;1.6 million science centre and plans an international business and design centre, a chaplaincy and improved sports facilities. Much of this involves making bids and raising matched funding. The school has, in less than two years, drawn in pound;660,000 from friends and supporters.

But this is not the be-all and end-all of Nick Chambers's work. He says:

"Separating fundraising from everything else can cause problems." Real development, he believes, involves playing a much longer game. It means spending time building contacts with businesses, for example, constructing a database of former pupils and keeping in touch with them. He is also responsible for marketing the school and for public relations.

This broad approach, says Nick Chambers, is necessarily different to that of the outside consultant who might come in temporarily to raise a lot of cash in a short time.

Such a person would probably spend less time than Mr Chambers does on building up the school's archive room, which attracts former pupils, eager to find photographs of themselves or their friends, taken on glory days.

On such occasions, Nick Chambers would never ask: "By the way, did you bring your chequebook?" (Still less, "Any chance of a mention in your will?") The pleasure a former pupil derives from an encounter with his athletic former self is reward enough. And warming the cockles of successful former pupils' hearts of course does no harm to the school's long-term income.

A similar philosophy lies behind his renovation of a school boardroom. Much of the work has been sponsored - each of the 20 chairs, for example, carries a plaque. He stocked a trophy cabinet with cups and memorabilia, and adorned the walls with pictures rescued from basements and cupboards. The room, which now tells the school history, not only impresses visitors, but can be hired out for meetings.

Mr Chambers works with eight others on a development committee, which meets every six weeks or so. On it sit governors, former pupils, parents and local business leaders, as well as a university professor of marketing. "It's a committee of doers," he says, "people who make things happen."

When Mr Chambers went to the committee with the idea of a school shop selling uniforms, sports equipment and other items, for example, their combined expertise shone on the venture. "They looked at the business plan, gave tax advice, and drove the best possible deal with the supplier." The shop should make a profit of pound;5,000 to pound;10,000 a year.

Being a development director calls for a particular combination of skills and personality. Nick Chambers came to Lancaster Royal five years ago as a technology teacher, after some years in marketing and charity work.

Is development director a career option for other teachers? He is not sure. He sees an advantage in being part of the learning community - "I still teach six to eight periods a week," he says. But he believes his previous experience gives him skills that would be difficult to find in a classroom career.

He is adept at building business links. His knowledge of the world beyond school, his personality and his confidence play a big part in this. He also stresses the importance of careful research.

"You can't assume companies are interested in working with schools. Before I go to see a chief executive I get company reports and find out about trends in their area. Then I can talk to the executive about the company rather than just about the school. It puts them at ease."

Then, he says, you invite them to look at an aspect of the school's work that you know will interest them. "It's much more than a begging letter," he says.

In one case he discovered that a large national information technology company was interested in knowing about IT skills of school leavers. This led to a visit, and a long-term partnership and free ICT consultancy time.

At the start of his appointment the team set out to create a strategy. "We made sure we were making best use of existing sources of income. Only then did we look at new ideas."

He and his committee listed ideas, measuring their fundraising potential against criteria such as initial cost, disruption, and effect on the school's reputation.

The approach was revealing. The importance, for example, of encouraging people to remember the school in their wills had not been properly appreciated.

He emphasises that many activities and events that seem unprofitable are important for the social and community life of the school. "At the end of the day we are a school, after all."

The overwhelming impression of Nick Chambers' s work is that it puts into high-powered action those ideas and plans that many schools think about but never get off the ground.

With a good development director, not only are such plans followed through, but a host of other projects spring to life. But finding people with the right combination of skills can be difficult, and heads and governors sometimes don't know what to look for.

There is now an Institute of Development Professionals in Education chaired by Nick Chambers. It covers all sectors of education. Its newsletter, and other publications, provide insight into the nature of development work and the kind of people involved. Contact David Poppitt, Secretary, IDPE, PO Box 102 Manchester M14 6XE. Tel: 0161 434 1847. e-mail info@idpe.org.ukwebsite www.idpe.org.uk

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