Funding principles

Fundraising initiatives are playing an increasingly important role in helping independent schools remain affordable, says Toby Sharpe

In recent times, a major problem for independent schools has been that of affordability. Ensuring continued high standards of schooling in a tough economic climate has been a challenge not all have come through intact.

According to census figures published earlier this year by the Independent Schools Council (ISC), up to 12 schools have closed altogether in 2013, on top of 11 a year earlier and 14 three years ago. In an attempt to combat the problems caused by sparse finances, fee increases have crept up above the rate of inflation. ISC figures reveal average fees have increased by 3.9 per cent in 2012/13 to £14,295 a year – putting more than £500 on average bills.

Parents are finding it increasingly difficult to afford to pay for their children to be educated independently, and as a result of this the number of pupils enrolled at some of Britain’s oldest establishments has been falling. In turn, this decline in numbers has meant that many schools have had no option but to close. In September of this year, Brooklands School in Stafford added its name to the lengthening list of schools that have been forced to suddenly shut down amid financial uncertainty. Likewise, Howell’s School at Denbigh ceased offering independent education to girls in the local area after having served the community for well over 150 years.

Financial difficulties have clearly been the root cause of struggling independent schools but, argues Alex McGrath, headteacher at the King’s Ely senior school, they can be overcome. Speaking in The Telegraph Online, Mr McGrath states that independent schools “must deliver a bespoke service of care for each individual child, and by extension to each family. This has been funded through rising fees of late. There must be another way!” He goes on to suggest that schools “need to become innovative, nimble and highly efficient businesses in order to endure and thrive”.

One solution to the affordability problem is for independent schools to raise funds for themselves. This ensures economic autonomy is preserved and that admissions fees can still be set. Donations from alumni are becoming ever more important as schools look to offer parents and pupils more bursary options to cover the cost of education. According to research supported by the ISC, independent schools are set to raise an estimated £115 million this year, up from £50 million in 2003. This has led to a growth in the value of fee assistance, with around a third of pupils now receiving support. From the evidence given, the ISC suggest that fundraising plays a crucial role in the financing of schools.

Two independent schools that understand the worth of fundraising are Birmingham’s King Edward’s School and Lord Wandsworth College in Hampshire. Both establishments work alongside The Institute of Development Professionals in Education (IDPE) to ensure that young people have the chance to benefit from the very best secondary education. IDPE’s aim is to help schools with development in fundraising and alumni links and thereby maximise money raised.

John Claughton, chief master at King Edward’s School, says: “Development has become one of the most significant areas in the strategic purpose of schools in recent times. IDPE is doing vital work in providing guidance for everyone to learn.” Between 2009 and 2012, King Edward’s raised £4 million from benefactors who once attended the school. Claughton continues: “A lot of our former pupils want a new generation of young people to benefit from the education they received here, back in the days when this was a direct-grant school [the school went private in 1979]. Particularly popular has been the scheme whereby past pupils sponsor individual boys all the way through school.” Indeed, King Edward’s has one alumnus, the ex-chief executive of clothing firm Alexon, John Osborn, who is personally funding the education of 12 boys.

In practical terms, much of the fundraising at King Edward’s is carried out by the pupils themselves. The boys use telephone lines set up by the school to contact former alumni with a view to soliciting a donation. All in all, the money received adds to the estimated £567 million that is raised annually to fund fees assistance in UK independent schools. The response of King Edward’s, and in particular its headteacher, represents an example of how the financial concerns of a school can be addressed internally. It also reflects the IDPE’s claim that schools with strong leadership have the best chance of maximising fundraising potential, with a report suggesting that the headteacher is the single most important person in regards to this matter.

At Lord Wandsworth College (LWC), a foundation has been set up to offer school places to children who have lost one or more parents. Over the last five years, £3.3 million has been raised in funds, through a combination of alumni donations, charity work and the rental of land and buildings to the college. Headteacher Fergus Livingstone states: “Our foundation is one of Hampshire’s leading children’s charities and we have supported more than 2,500 children since we were established 100 years ago. Fundraising is essential to our ability to continue offering this level of support.”

The charitable status afforded to LWC means that anyone can donate to the foundation, and the school is keen to promote what it feels is a worthy and, in some cases, vital cause. A team of trustees headed by Gill Wright oversees the foundation’s leadership, which includes involvement in everything from promotion and long-term strategy to selecting the individual pupils worthy of support. The school’s website includes information pages about the LWC foundation, how places can be applied for and also a ‘how to help’ section that suggests six different ways in which donations can be made.

In line with Alex McGrath’s comments, both King Edward’s School and Lord Wandsworth College are acting more like businesses in order to adapt and overcome financial uncertainty. The examples set by both establishments in appreciating the need for fundraising efficiencies will ensure that they, just like the best businesses, will endure the tough economic times.

Lord Wandsworth College development office

King Edward’s School development office W:




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