As schools prepare for specialist status, Phil Revell looks at sponsor options
Wanted: pound;100,000. Cheques and brown envelopes should be addressed to your local school.
It might seem a daunting hurdle finding the lump sum needed to qualify for the specialist schools programme. But as one former chairman of governors remarked: "It's often easier to raise pound;100,000 for a big scheme like that than it is to find a few thousand."
Fundraising in the state sector has traditionally been a matter of sponsored walks and raffles. Schools like Eton and Harrow could raise pound;0.5 million at the drop of a hat, but the idea that the comprehensive school down the road could do the same was ridiculed. Doubters pointed to the failure of the city technology colleges to attract big name donors.
But the success of the specialist schools programme - which was extended last week - has confounded the cynics and demonstrated the potential for private sponsorship within the state sector. Last month the Government announced a pound;1.5 million sponsorship deal for specialist schools with the Music Sound Foundation, a charity set up by EMI.
Last week a further 51 schools were told that their bids had been successful. From September there will be 330, including 227 technology, 58 language, 26 sports and 19 arts colleges.
"The programme has so far drawn pound;30 million of sponsorship into education," said Estelle Morris, the schools minister, as the successful schools' names were released. "This is a tremendous response from the private sector."
Schools must raise pound;100,000 in private sponsorship and their bid must include a three-year development plan to improve performance in the chosen specialism. Changes introduced by the Government include tighter rules on raising sponsorship and a requirement that schools share their expertise and facilities with the wider community. Successful bidders will have their money matched by a pound;100,000 capital grant from the state and a bonus of pound;100 per pupil per year.
Some schools have raised the money incrementally, with a long hard slog of letters, appeals, events and petitions. Beacon Community College in East Sussex had a successful bid last year where the largest single donation came with a pound;20,000 cheque from the local hockey club. Others have struck lucky. Archbishop Temple School in Preston had good links with British Aerospace which stumped up half of the pound;100,000 it needed for its bid.
The Technology Colleges Trust will advise schools on fundraising for a bid, a role carried out for budding sports colleges by the Youth Sports Trust in Loughborough. The trust advised The Leon School in Milton Keynes to scan its list of old boys for millionaires. Bruce Abbott, the headteacher, was sceptical. His catchment area is not normally known for its moneyed clientele. He was amazed to find a former pupil who was (a) a millionaire and (b) willing to stump up some money for his alma mater. "He gave us our seed-corn money," said Mr Abbott. "In the end it was people who knew the school."
In Coventry, Tile Hill Wood School received funding from Research Machines, the computer hardware firm, Vector Language Software and RJ Education Supplies, which installs language laboratories. Money also came in from local companies and the Sasakawa Foundation, a charity that promotes understanding and education related to Japanese language and culture.
The school is to be become a language college, offering Japanese along with other languages, both to students and to local businesses. "It's taken us a long time," says Ruth Westbrook, the head. "The rules changed during the process, but we've made valuable links, even with businesses who were unable to support us with cash."
Research Machines has supported the bids of about half the schools to have achieved specialist school status. The company runs twice-yearly seminars for heads. "We believe in the programme because it focuses on school improvement through ICT," said Fiona Maclean, a company spokeswoman. "We like to see ourselves as strategic partners with schools."
Other big donors include British Aerospace and the Weston Foundation, a charitable trust founded by Garfield Weston, a multi-millionaire who is one of the richest individuals in Britain. Bruce Abbott welcomes the money which will make a real difference to his school, but he's ambivalent about the principle: "I think I agree with critics who complain about unequal funding," he said. "It's a shame that the nation can't afford to equip all its schools properly."
But, faced with inadequate resources, Mr Abbott feels that heads should consider looking for outside funding. "I'd urge schools to have a go - it's possible."