Thanks a million, Mr Carter

17th October 2003 at 01:00
When a new head took charge at a Surrey primary he soon had the money flowing in. Martin Whittaker reports

Name South Farnham junior school, Surrey

School type Seven-11 community school

Proportion of children entitled to free school meals

1 per cent

Improved results Consistently high in English, maths and science since 2000

South Farnham pupils have five libraries full of books at a time when many schools are struggling to balance theirs. They also have a smart new dance studio with sprung flooring, music rooms, a professional development centre for its staff, art studios, information and communications technology suites, classrooms with projectors and a kitchen where they learn to cook.

And while other schools in the South-east have difficulty finding and keeping good staff, South Farnham makes a provision in its budget so the head can appoint good-quality staff when he finds them, irrespective of whether he needs them.

How does a state junior school afford it? It is tempting to simply look to the surroundings - the commuter town of Farnham in Surrey is prosperous.

But head Andrew Carter insists it is nothing to do with local good fortune.

Since he became head 15 years ago, around pound;1 million has been spent developing the school. "That is all money we have managed to raise, not from the local education authority," he says. "It has come from us, and the building programme has been run by us.

"People will say it's a nice middle-class school and therefore you get your money from parents. We do get money from parents but we don't get pound;1m."

Last year the issues of resources and the social divide between schools were publicly put to the test when Mr Carter swapped places for a week with Carol Lyndon, head of Kings Rise community primary in Birmingham, for the BBC series Turning the Tables.

The Birmingham school, though well-led and managed, was at the opposite end of the spectrum to its Surrey counterpart. Located in an area of severe deprivation, 41 per cent of its children have special needs and teachers also have to cope with high pupil turnover.

One of Mr Carter's challenges was to raise money for a school trip - a task he was told would be difficult. But in five days he raised pound;1,250 from local businesses.

Andrew Carter has the Midas touch and fellow heads now beat a path to his door to learn how to gain resources for their schools. Articulate and brimming with enthusiasm, he could talk for England and has the reputation of being an astute negotiator when dealing with suppliers.

South Farnham is a beacon school with 489 pupils on roll. Only five children are eligible for free school meals, and nearly all its pupils are white and of UK heritage. Around a fifth of its pupils have special needs.

Its recent Office for Standards in Education inspection found no areas for improvement and called it a "superb school where pupils achieve very well and attain excellent standards".

Its Sats results have put it in the top 5 per cent of schools nationally for 2001 and 2002. This year's results for those gaining level 4 plus were 100 per cent in maths, 100 per cent in science and 99 per cent in English.

But it has not always been so successful. When Mr Carter arrived in 1988 the school roll was half its current level and falling.

Its 1930s buildings were in poor condition while inside there were remnants of its days as a girls' grammar, including sewing machines and coffee sets to help young ladies become housewives.

No money was forthcoming from Surrey LEA. The head started by painting rooms himself - something he will still do if he knows it will save money.

"There are two things you have to do. One is that we have to manage the budget given to us through devolved budgets. You have to manage that efficiently and understand that what you cannot afford, you cannot have.

And then you have to seek alternative sources of funding."

One example is a deal with an estate agent. Noting how people took the school into account when moving to the area, Mr Carter got local estate agents to bid for the right to have a link from the school's website. The winning bid was "a substantial offer".

The school also has its own limited company, South Farnham Services, which runs after-school-care facilities and brings in around pound;10,000 a year in revenue. Another fundraiser is gift-aiding, where individuals and businesses can make tax-efficient donations.

And he is not afraid to rattle the tin around the larger community. "People give you things. I go to the local Rotary clubs and tell them the biggest single investor in this town is education - now it's payback time."

Despite Mr Carter's assertion that the school does not rest on the shoulders of wealthy parents, its parent-teacher association raised nearly pound;20,000 last year. He says the school's board of governors has been a big contributing factor, particularly in terms of continuity. Some governors have been there as long as the head.

One of them is vice-chair Tony Lennard. "The school is driven by the curriculum," he says. "We start with what's needed and then try to construct the budget around what's wanted rather than with what money is available.

"That's been the practice since Mr Carter came to the school. He made it clear that the school was about the curriculum and about resourcing the curriculum. He's very determined and we support him in that."

Mr Carter believes this success in gaining resources is possible in any school. "You must never turn down opportunities to get money. The big ones are rare - it's the little bits that you need to have coming in.

"If you have gift aid and after-school care running, and you an efficient PTA, you begin to get a revenue stream which gives you a bit of belief. And nothing breeds success like success."

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