Grabbing a bigger slice of the fundraising cake

17th June 2016 at 01:00
Forget the school fete, schools are increasingly feting parents and alumni as a way to pay for planned innovations in learning, as Emma Seith finds

SCHOOL FUNDRAISING that goes beyond an annual fete or the odd cake stall is reasonably rare outside the independent sector.

And although research shows that state schools could raise an average £30,000 a year from their former pupils, only 2 per cent have ever asked alumni for a donation.

Now, one East Lothian school is looking to change all of that. After receiving £150,000 from a local philanthropist, Preston Lodge High in Prestonpans has set up a charitable trust and hired a head of development on a three-year contract, with a view to generating cash for investment in learning.

Preston Lodge is taking inspiration from state schools in England, where having a depute head responsible for fundraising is increasingly common, says Gavin Clark, the school’s headteacher.

The school’s new development manager, Julie Lowe, was previously a regional fundraising manager at the Children 1st charity. She thinks the potential for the school to raise funds is “huge”, but is reluctant to put a figure on it, having only been in post since April.

To illustrate the point, Isabella Bennett, the director of development at the Royal Grammar School in High Wycombe, has already raised £6 million since becoming the first person to take on the role at the state school in 2009.

The received wisdom is that schools have to “friend-raise” – cultivate a community of potential givers – for five years before they can expect to raise large sums of money, she says. But Ms Bennett estimates that a school can reap the rewards of investing in a development worker after just 18 months – and there might also be some “quick wins” along the way that could bring in some extra cash.

Certainly, Preston Lodge’s plans have caught the eye of the local council. The new head of education at East Lothian Council, Fiona Robertson, has told TESS that she will be keeping a watching brief on the “innovative approach to supporting school improvement” being taken by the school.

However, many may question whether local communities should be asked to contribute to the cost of education at all.

Seamus Searson, general secretary of the Scottish Secondary Teachers’ Association, is critical of Preston Lodge’s plans. He argues that schools should be properly funded in the first place – that is what people pay their taxes for. If Scotland’s state schools all started to fundraise, he argues, inequalities would be exacerbated because schools based in affluent areas would inevitably raise more cash. Such a move could also be to the long-term detriment of the schools.

Mr Searson explains: “What is there to stop a future government from saying: “If you are capable of raising so much money yourself, then that’s so much less we are going to give you”? I would rather education was funded correctly and fairly in the first place.”

However, he admits that is currently not happening: school budgets have been “cut to the core”, schools’ curricula are being narrowed because of this, and teachers have scant time for their marking and lesson preparation.

Mr Searson is calling for more funding to be allocated to teachers’ continuing professional development and for that funding to be ringfenced.

Other concerns include the increasing cost of schooling to families, who have to fork out for everything from uniforms to school trips. Recent research into the cost of the school day has shown that this is causing anxiety and stigma among some parents and pupils. Fundraising activities could make some children feel excluded from the school community if they cannot afford to contribute or participate, warns Marion Fairweather, manager of the Cost of the School Day project in Glasgow, although she notes that fundraising can increase participation by covering the cost of activities, such as school trips.

Time is money

Gavin Clark’s ambition is to use the money raised through the charitable trust – called the Preston Lodge High School Excellence in Learning Foundation – to improve learning. A major focus will be time out for teachers to plan outstanding lessons, says Mr Clark. He wants lessons in his school to be “sexy” (see box, page 17), adding: “The holy grail in education and the thing that, to our shame, has never been tackled is time for quality development – time out for teachers to collaboratively plan fantastic lessons.

“But innovation takes money.”

So is the school realistic to think that it can raise the cash? If you don’t ask, you don’t get, says Ms Bennett.

“Occasionally, you see specific schools raising huge sums of money; the natural instinct is to say, ‘We will never be that school,’ but you can’t be Jimmy Choo if you are Barratts,” she says. “You have to look at what you have got and make a judgement about what you can achieve.”

The best starting point is a feasibility study, she suggests – a conversation with parents, pupils, former pupils and staff about the kind of activity they would be prepared to fund.

“People will tell you, there and then, we would invest in this or that,” she continues. “It gives you guidance on what you should be fundraising towards.”

With three-quarters of development offices failing to make money in the first two years (see graphic, right), the all-important “friend-raising” is the priority before fundraising. Crucially, she cautions, it’s a process that takes time.


Preston Lodge High School: ‘Innovation takes money’

Pupils in S3 at Preston Lodge High in Prestonpans can learn to ski, golf or even cable wakeboard – this involves a board being strapped to your feet and an overhead cable moving over the surface of a lake.

For the less physically-minded student, courses are offered in forensic science, digital photography, radio broadcasting and cake design.

When it comes to more traditional courses, such as maths, these should not be an end in themselves, but instead vehicles for developing pupils’ “learning skills”, says the headteacher of Preston Lodge, Gavin Clark.

“At the moment, we’re developing something called the five Rs,” he explains. “We want our pupils to be resilient, responsible, reasoning, reflective and resourceful. That’s the real curriculum and the subjects within the curriculum are there to support the development of these dispositions.”

In the senior phase, pupils from S4-6 study in mixed classes and have the opportunity to pursue courses over two years, eradicating the so-called “two-term dash” for Higher. As a result, between 2014 and 2015, the number of pupils achieving one or more Higher rose by 10 per cent, says Mr Clark.

The school wants to ensure fantastic lessons are being delivered across the board. It has its own bespoke CPD and a principal teacher of classroom practice, who is responsible for managing it.

Depute headteacher Calum Stewart says: “One thing you hear a lot is that the difference between one classroom and the next is often greater than between school A and school B. So we want our teachers to decide together if their lessons are of the best quality, rather than one teacher being an extremely good teacher and having a really nice lesson idea.”

Why philanthropy towards independent schools is ingrained

There are two groups of people who are interested in giving money to Merchiston Castle School in Edinburgh, explains David Rider, the private school’s director of development: the parents who have chosen to send their children there and the pupils who formerly attended.

A state school is a different proposition, says Mr Rider, who is also the vice-president of the Institute of Development Professionals in Education in Scotland. The question that state schools will face from those approached for money, he predicts, is, “What do I pay my taxes for?”

Mr Rider is currently fundraising for a capital project worth £12 million to update the school’s sports facilities. He started the process in October and has raised £3m to date.

“While this school is a charity, I know from experience that if I go to any grant-making body, they are going to prioritise other charities over us, a fee-paying school,” he says.

Comparing fundraising efforts in the independent and state sector is unfair, he insists. Parents and former pupils of independent schools tend to have the capacity to give generously and, given many private schools were born out of philanthropy, the idea of giving is ingrained.

He says: “The general rule of thumb is the longer a school has been doing this, the more successful they are. There are a lot of examples of schools that have started fundraising, but lost heart because it was not doing well.”

Fundraising dos and don’ts


Understand your school’s mission and vision, and align your development strategy to them (in writing).

Invest time and money in professional staff, a database and a website.

Form relationships with all of your supporters and keep them updated: alumni, parents, parents of alumni, teachers, former teachers, pupils, local community, other schools.

Create opportunities for that lucky big gift, but don’t expect money to roll in immediately.


Forget that success is measured by the number of contacts made, the number of website visitors and the number of returning former pupils – not just by how many pennies enter the school’s coffers.

Lose heart. It’s a long process but the rewards – monetary and in kind – can be enormous.

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