June 2011


  • Fledge funds?
    When budgets are squeezed, schools and colleges need to drum up new sources of income. And, like any management task, it requires a properly thought-out plan of attack. Val Andrew offers some ideas. More
  • The generation game
    From carpentry and childcare to hosting conferences and opening a professional gym, schools and colleges are finding imaginative ways to generate new income. Dorothy Lepkowska reports. More
  • Brave admissions
    UCAS boss Mary Curnock Cook is leading an overhaul of the 50 year old university admissions system, tackling some of the problems previously labelled 'too difficult' to address. She talks to Liz Lightfoot. More
  • Taking up the challenge
    If you decide to challenge an Ofsted decision, what can you expect? Jan Webber explains the dispute process and looks at the case of one institution which refused to accept an inaccurate report. More
  • Hives of activity
    Co-operative schools, with their emphasis on work ethic, self-help and social responsibility, are booming. Dorothy Lepkowska explores what makes them tick and looks at plans for the first co-op academy. More
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From carpentry and childcare to hosting conferences and opening a professional gym, schools and colleges are finding imaginative ways to generate new income. Dorothy Lepkowska reports.

The generation game

Providing vocational education at Pembroke School was becoming costly and cumbersome. Students were being transported long distances to placements and the travelling time often ate into their lessons when they returned to school, causing disruption.

Yet this sort of provision was vital in motivating and engaging a cohort of students who might otherwise have opted out of education altogether.

The matter came to a head five years ago when the costs became prohibitive. "We decided that the quality of provision needed to be better and that, ideally, it should be provided at or close to the school," says Shirley Wilczynski, business manager of the school in south Wales.

"I applied for a grant of £80,000 from the Forestry Commission to open up access to some woodland next to the school and to refurbish some buildings to create a carpentry workshop."

In the years that followed the project grew and eventually the Green Links Community Interest Company was set up, employing 23 staff and providing quality vocational courses on site. With a turnover of £200,000 a year from business generated with local schools and companies, it allows the centre to be self-financing.

This is the type of business model that schools may increasingly have to consider at a time of cuts in central funding, says Val Andrew, ASCL’s business management specialist.

"Being creative is one of the things that schools increasingly need to think about when balancing their budgets and considering ventures that might generate some income," she says.

"For many schools, running a business on site is becoming an integral part of the curriculum."

At Pembroke School, the vocational courses offered by Green Links have expanded to include facilities for subjects such as engineering, construction and hair and beauty – all accredited by the Open College Network.

These are now included in year 9 options for all students. The specialist staff employed by the centre travel to other schools to deliver parts of the curriculum, which is one of its main money-spinners.

Business sense

Creating first-rate vocational provision in house which not only pays for itself but generates income is ambitious and requires vision and a sound business sense – qualities which are evident in other ventures around the country.

Hipperholme and Lightcliffe High School in Halifax is in the middle of adapting the vacant buildings of a former brewery called The Maltings into a vocational and enterprise centre, which will open in September. It will comprise a fully-functioning gym open to the public, a 60-place private day nursery and conference facilities, as well as providing 15 additional vocational classrooms as an annexe to the school.

The imposing 19th century building had already been turned into offices as a part of a previous business venture that had failed. The school has now taken on the building on an initial 15-year lease at a "competitive" rate.

Anthony Smith, the headteacher, is cautious in estimating how much revenue the enterprise will raise, but it should cover the shortfall from the 80 per cent cuts in capital funding imposed by central government, as well as paying for any further development of The Maltings. The work required to adapt the building is currently out to tender.

"The centre will offer students practical experience so, for example, those doing childcare will be able to work in the nursery on placement, while students doing qualifications in sport and leisure can gain experience in a commercial gym setting," says Anthony.

"Hundreds of students will be able to use the centre at any one time. We’re also planning to develop a hair and beauty salon and a kitchen for the conference facilities. Students will gain their qualifications in a proper working environment."

In the longer term, Hipperholme and Lightcliffe would like to strike a deal with a major soft drinks company for the extraction of spring water on the site, for which the means exist from its days as a brewery. Negotiations are ongoing and in the early stages.

Anthony is not put off by edicts from the Department for Education about the English baccalaureate and the potential sidelining of vocational education. "Our students will have the opportunity to study for a mix of academic and vocational courses and will be receiving a highly balanced education," he says.

"Yes, this is a highly ambitious project but we have thought about it long and hard, and it was an opportunity we just couldn’t miss. We believe this is the way forward if our school is to be a real centre of excellence for students."

Purpose built

Under the Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme, some schools were built specifically with business and enterprise opportunities in mind. The Burnley Campus, for example, which comprises a children's centre, nursery, library, secondary school and sixth form college, among others, was established as a social enterprise model in the Lancashire town and now has a turnover of around £400,000 a year.

Dionne Holdsworth is employed by the Burnley Campus Management Group as its manager, to lead and develop the scheme.

She says: "It was felt when the campus opened in 2008 that this model would move us away from the restrictions of the local authority, and allow us to be creative in the way we operated. "We use our facilities for the community, working in partnerships with a number of agencies, including the NHS and local authority, as well as hiring them to local businesses."

The centre has an auditorium, lecture theatre and meeting rooms, which allow it to host conferences that generate income.

Rather than a collection of education and other organisations, the campus is now seen locally as a community hub for the extended services it offers, which include after-school groups for young people whose parents cannot afford to pay. Any income generated goes back into supporting the educational aims of campus.

And being located under one roof allows the schools and college to share resources and staff, and so further reduce costs.

"The fact we are on one campus is a huge advantage and allows the social enterprise model to work. It would not fit all schools," Dionne adds. "It was developed to be accessible to the whole community, while many schools by their sheer design can still make people feel that they don’t really belong there.

"I believe that we live in times where schools will increasingly have to think 'outside the box' and be more flexible about how they interact with the local community and businesses and how they can generate income."

Small seeds

Not all ventures generate money on a huge scale, of course, and innovative ideas often start with a small seed before expanding into something much bigger.

At Chipping Campden School, a training day organised for neighbouring schools as part of a Leading Edge programme is now being developed into a potential earner.

Gareth Burton, assistant head at the Gloucestershire secondary, hopes to arouse interest from colleagues around the country in a package designed to help them organise their own training days, based on the successful model he has developed.

He says: "It all started when we organised a joint Inset day for our partner schools. We are a Leading Edge school and these were partnerships that existed as a result of joint delivery of diplomas and vocational qualifications.

"The Inset day allowed each school to share ideas and experiences based on their own specialisms or areas of expertise and we had 350 teachers here. We called the event iSHARE."

An evaluation of the day found that it had been very well received. "Staff felt they could go back to their schools and put some of the ideas into action, so what they had learned was both relevant and sustainable," Gareth says.

"It is not that difficult to create a 'wow' factor on the day but it is harder to then make the ideas work."

Gareth says the event created a huge amount of work for him personally, which is where the idea came for promoting the model to other schools.

"We want to try to offer the idea as a package for other schools to make life a little easier now that we have put on a successful event ourselves," he says.

"So for £200 schools will get a meeting with me to share ideas about how to organise and facilitate a successful event according to their particular needs, as well as use of the iSHARE brand and templates of materials that are used on the day.

"It is not something we desperately need to do financially but it’s about sharing good practice while making a few pounds along the way to ease the difficult financial climate we are entering."

  • Dorothy Lepkowska is a freelance education journalist.

The generation game