The pace of change in almost every facet of school life is relentless. It may be that this change is driven by political point scoring, or it may be the whirligig that is the communication and technological revolution, but whatever the cause, I can only see that the rate of change will increase.
In my role as a recruitment specialist, I have come to realise that one of the key attributes in a headship candidate, something that grabs a Governor’s attention, is entrepreneurial business acumen. They are looking for a hint of an Alan Sugar or a Richard Branson, which is somewhat difficult to find in a person who has gone from school to university, and then back to school. Of course, a key, close working partnership with the Bursar, who hopefully turns out to be a wise financial and commercial leader, is critical, and will leave the Head to deliver vision, ethos, innovation and inspiration.
Running a school has become a numbers game – pupil numbers, income, scores, statistics. Most important, at the top of the list, is revenue resulting from a growing school roll, and for this you have to learn some new tricks. You have to learn to play the game, enter the race, jump the hurdles. Every Government initiative is a competition you need to win, although some chances are better than others. The Assisted Places Schemes, introduced as a vehicle to provide wider access to independent schools, was grasped by some as a way to increase pupil numbers. That particular hot potato, and its subsequent withdrawal by the new government who did not share the desire to allow wider pupil access, caused some schools huge problems.
However, until education is completely removed from the political arena, independent head teachers must remember the fall-out from the Assisted Places Scheme, and not be bewitched by tales of full schools and waiting lists.
We can, however, be discerning in our choice of golden eggs, avoiding of course the scrambled and the coddled ones. There are some very worthwhile, politically motivated schemes and grants out there for independent schools, so seek them out if you are brave enough.
I remember well the Independent State School Partnership Schemes, which ploughed money into forging connections between independent and maintained schools. At Yarm Preparatory School, we accessed this money twice, with huge success. The first tranche of cash paid for an old fashioned pageant at Mount Grace Priory, located on the old Drove Road. It was a grand affair, with all the pupils from both schools fully costumed, acting together in small plays, making music and dancing. The following year, we spent more government money on joining classes together from separate schools for some imaginative geography, science and history fieldwork. The children, staff and parents all gained tremendously.
I read with interest an article by Sunema Stoneham, the Legal and Policy Advisor to the ISC, on the evaluation of the scheme, in which she praised it and regretted its demise. I have heard that many of the projects launched through the programme have continued, despite the lack of funding, and will have benefited a whole generation of children.
So, are there any magic pots of money around at the moment into which you can dip? Too often, schools forget that they may be classified as small or medium business and so have access to ordinary old Government grants. There is a plethora of schemes in areas such as marketing, IT development, business support and training. It is really worth building a relationship with the local contacts to see exactly what level of support is available. It will vary from region to region, and you need to be in the know, on the ball, under the radar and over the rainbow!
There are some more traditional ways to seek financial support for your independent school activities such as grants and awards schemes run by Tesco, Lloyds, Barclays and Biffa, as well as those launched by the Government. Each application entails the completion of twenty forms, the answering of five million questions and the provision of plans, photographs, calculations and promises. You will need a small team at your beck and call to complete these applications but stick with it, it will be worth it when the cheque arrives.
You will, no doubt, have seen the recent explosion in solar panels adorning the rooftops of Britain, paid for by the generous Government-backed scheme for green energy. The feed in tariffs offered were unsustainable and have subsequently been withdrawn, but a number of schools will have filled in the forms and ticked the boxes in time to gain an award of funding. Some schools may have considered wind turbines or ground energy pumps, and they will have found that there are ongoing schemes for development of these types of energy.
One of the next major initiatives is for bio-mass boilers, which sound like something you will find in a school kitchen, full of vegetarian stew. A little bit of research will show the incredible benefits available if you install these. So, if you are about to replace those old, smoky, noisy gas boilers, have a look into the benefits of burning wood or pellets.
And finally, there is the lottery! (My lucky numbers, 11,14,26,41, 47and 49, will come up one day. Just watch!) As you will be aware, the lottery supports local schemes and certain independent schools have benefitted greatly from this support. The bid process is long and arduous, so you will need a strong constitution and resolute determination, but the benefits are tremendous and well worth investigating.
So, where is the best place to look for information on business and educational grants? There are a number of web sites that are incredibly helpful and will provide you and your team with lots of different ideas. Grants for Schools www.grants4schools.info is one of the best but there are others such as Turn to Us www.turn2us.org or School Enterprise www.school-enterprise.com. If you are looking for specifically green energy grants then www.energyshare.com will provide you with a wide range of opportunities. It is worth keeping an eye on all of these sites – the early bird and all that. Nothing, especially money, comes easily, so don’t give up. Alan Branson would be proud of you!