THE SCHOOL car park is full and lights blaze in the windows of Bradford Grammar School's stately stone buildings. Guests, including the city's deputy Lord Mayor and the night's main speaker, BBC presenter Felicity Goodey, enter the packed assembly hall.
They have gathered for speech day and the chairman of governors, Alan H Jerome, is to announce that the school has already reached pound;1 million in its funds appeal, though the letter to parents and alumni was posted only weeks ago.
But then the 450-year-old grammar school which now charges fees - has advantages over Bradford's council-run schools. Its old boys include names such as David Hockney, who is heading the current appeal, and it is well used to successful fund-raising.
This time round it is reaching for a total of pound;2.5m, which is not a vast amount in the private sector scale - Manchester Grammar is currently appealing for pound;10m. But it is a lot more than most schools can manage, and the contrast again raises the question of how much the state must spend before its schools feel they are treated fairly. In September, the head of London's Oratory School, John McIntosh, was unashamedly clear that parental contributions of pound;30 per child per month were needed because the standard cash allocation from the council did not cover an acceptable level of education.
There is a hint of anger in the voice of John Hull, head of Buttershaw Upper School, Bradford, as he deplores the under-funding of his school, one of the biggest in the city with 1,340 pupils.
"Our funding is well below the average," he says. Asked what he would buy if his school was able to raise the kind of money Bradford Grammar has, he answers: "I'd paint and decorate the whole school. It hasn't been painted in five years. I'd spend money on the appearance of the school.
"The first thing people see when they walk into the school is the peeling paint and the worn tiles on the floors. But then I am not sure if I wouldn't spend the money on books because there are not enough to go round. Bradford needs to spend pound;40m to repair its school buildings; this year's budget will be only pound;5.7m."
The school is cheerful, says Mr Hull, and staff and pupils work well. But there are strict limits to how much extra, if anything, the parents can pay out.
The deputy head of Eccleshill Upper School, Rob Goodwin, says his list of "must haves" would include basic needs such as the security of the school's staff and 600 students.
"The grounds are exposed on three sides and are invaded by motor cyclists."
Bradford Grammar is equally confident that it needs the money. The first pound;1m is for bursaries to replace abolished assisted places. "I am passionate about the concept of bursaries. I do believe these academically gifted children blossom in a grammar school," said headteacher Stephen Davidson. The school offered 28 bursaries in 1998 and this year has provided another 22.
The other pound;1.5m which the school wants to raise is for a six-lane swimming pool and a music centre. It has recently acquired a new library and IT centre, a new sports hall and a theatre, and is about to start work on a sixth form centre.