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Thursday, 22 February, 2001, 14:35 GMT
Schools' sponsorship struggle
Technolgy classroom
Specialist technology schools have attracted money from business
By BBC News Online's Angela Harrison

Firms have given 120m to education schemes in England since Labour came to power, ministers have said.

The money has been pumped into specialist comprehensives, education action zones and city academies.

The government is keen to encourage more sponsorship in the secondary school sector.

But head teachers say it is no easy job finding the money.

Announcing the 120m figure, the School Standards Minister, Estelle Morris, said pupils and employers were benefiting from closer links between commerce and the state school system.

"Business has a huge contribution to make but it also has much to gain from a more competitive and better skilled future workforce," she said.

Estelle Morris
Estelle Morris: "Business has a huge contribution to make"
But a recent report by the National Audit Office showed that education action zones undershot their sponsorship target by 1.25m in their first year.

Business support is vital if secondary schools want to become specialist schools, focusing on such things as technology, arts, languages or sport.

To qualify for specialist status, a school must raise 50,000 in sponsorship.

Originally they were asked to find 100,000 but it proved such a hurdle ministers halved the target.

Struggle

Lostock Community High School in Stretford, Trafford, struggled for four years to raise the 50,000 needed to become a specialist school for the performing arts.

It will get specialist status from this September

The head teacher, Denis Sweeney, says it could never have become a specialist school if it had needed to raise 100,000.


We might as well have been asked to raise a million

Denis Sweeney, Lostock Community High School
"We might as well have been asked to raise a million as 100,000", he said.

"We've raised the 50,000 with difficulty."

Mr Sweeney says half of the money was raised by the parent-teachers' association: "That was phenomenal in a place which is not a leafy area and it shows how supportive the PTA is to the school".

The remainder of the money came through sponsorship from Manchester United, the Trafford Centre in Manchester, the GMB union, a local business and a charitable trust.

Mr Sweeney said: "Like many schools, we lost count of the number of approaches we made to private enterprises. And industry has many different reasons for saying 'Sorry. But'."

Affluent areas

Even schools in affluent areas face problems in attracting cash from business.

At the George Abbott school in Guildford, the PTA also contributed 25,000 to help convert the school to a specialist arts centre this autumn.

The government sets a limit of 25,000 on the amount of money which can come from school foundations and PTAs.

The deputy head teacher, Andy Cummings, said it took a full school year to raise the rest of the money.

"It wasn't easy and we did get a lot of rejections," he said.


It wasn't easy and we did get a lot of rejections

Andy Cummings, Geoge Abbott School, Guildford

"Part of the problem was finding the right forum to make contact with firms. We would invite bosses to exhibitions or school events and they would send someone junior who could not make decisions on sponsorship.

"In the end, we were helped by parents who put us in contact with the right people."

The school's main sponsor is Debenhams and it has also received cash from British Airways and Surrey County Cricket Club.

One school near Cambridge has used its own enterprise to raise cash to become a specialist sports centre.

Comberton Village College has set up a company within the school, which sells school uniform and stationery at reasonable prices.

That company has been able to donate its profits to the fund.

Cambridge colleges

Other money has come from colleges in Cambridge.

The school's head teacher, Stephen Munday, said: "We already had support from some colleges, especially St John's, and we built on that.

"They are keen to support sport in the local area and to support local state education. And politically, it's not a bad thing for them to be seen to be doing this."

So why is it so hard to attract the eye of business?

Dennis Sweeney of the Lostock Community High School has some sympathy for business leaders.

"Everybody and his dog will be approaching private industry for support. It must be quite hard to decide who to support and business people might be focusing on the return to their shareholders.

"I don't think this enterprise revolution in sponsorship has taken off. I am just pleased we've been able to raise the money."

See also:

12 Feb 01 | Education
Heads back specialist schooling
26 Jan 01 | Education
Zones 'failed to win business cash'
08 Sep 00 | Education
Millionaire's gift to former school
30 Nov 00 | Education
Dance school gets specialist status
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