Finding the funding for school expansion

Written by: Gareth Barber | Published:
Photo: MA Education

With growing pupil rolls, expansion is a priority for many schools – however, finance is a key consideration. Gareth Barber opens up the school place debate and looks into what funding options are on the table for those looking to upsize

Budget considerations are not a new challenge for the public sector; the fine balancing act of maintaining standards while increasing service provision on a limited spend is a constant.

Schools are required to address frequently changing ideas on what kind of environment pupils require, as well as the need to cater for more pupils than ever before. These demands mean changing, adapting and increasing facilities, within budgets of course.

Many schools and pre-schools are meeting these needs by expanding with new or add-on builds to increase the footprint of their site. As this becomes more commonplace, there is a need to share information and best practice on how and where to source funding so that spend in other areas is not compromised.

Why is expansion becoming more common?

In September 2015, planning and housing minister Brandon Lewis announced government plans to build one million new homes over the next five years. With this target comes the knock-on implications of providing the relevant services required to meet the needs of these homeowners. These considerations include infrastructure such as transport links, access to health services and, of course, education facilities.

Schools across the UK are faced with major overcrowding; increased demand for places is not just in line with new housing, but also a rapidly increasing birth rate. In 2014, almost 80,000 children (nearly one in eight) failed to secure a place in their first-choice school.

More pupils means more facilities, more staff, more tools and materials; subsequently schools are having to rebalance their budgets with these new considerations in mind. In many cases, fitting these changes within current budgets is simply not possible.

In order to address this, the government has made a commitment (as outlined in the Department for Education’s settlement at the Spending Review) to a four-year plan which will address public finances, including education needs. For schools the Spending Review means many things, but importantly in this context it pledged £23 billion capital investment to provide the necessary 600,000 school places, rebuild and refurbish more than 500 schools, and tackle essential maintenance works.

Schools must of course make changes in the interim to meet growing need for places, which has been the driver behind a flurry of grants and opportunities being made available for schools to secure additional funding.

How can schools respond?

Many schools are faced with the need to allocate funds to extending their buildings, add extra locations on-site and bettering school transport to support pupils being brought in from surrounding districts.

It is a sensible move to simply extend or improve facilities on-site to suit the needs of more pupils, but extensions can be costly. This is why schools are increasingly required to explore available funding streams.

For schools seeking simply to improve, there are also varying, more specific grants which support bids to become specialist academies, improve facilities in particular faculties, and simply improve specific equipment and materials.

Of course, while school expansion can be a major undertaking and drives a need for more significant streams of funding, many schools simply need support in raising smaller amounts and many of the approaches below can be used to meet these objectives.

Where to start? Schools share their tips for securing funding

There is no-one better placed to offer guidance than those schools already benefiting from a successful funding drive or application. We spoke to some schools to see how their experiences shaped their understanding of the process and asked what they thought schools at the start of the journey should know.

Keelman’s Way School in the North East and Kirklington Primary School in Nottinghamshire are among those to have recently secured funding for their expansion needs. Below are some of their top tips for schools seeking to secure their own funds.

Tap into local authority support

“Involve the local authority if possible – they may have funds which support part, if not all, of the project, they provided a significant portion of funding and although they were unable to support the building of a new classroom, they accessed SEND funding to add the hygiene suite onto the building, which ultimately reduced the costs for both of us.”

This is a crucial point – be aware of how one approach can lead to more. In this case, the local authority provided some of the required funds and was able to act as a pathway to other funding streams. Start with the contacts you have, speak to your local council, assess what is potentially available locally before embarking on bid processes with other organisations.

Approach other local sources

“Be prepared to approach as many local charities as possible and be prepared to accept several lower donations than chase one large one. We secured another portion this way. Send letters which are polite, explain clearly what you want to do and what impact it will have on the children.”

Many schools overlook the power of fundraising this way. When you are seeking to improve facilities for your pupils you might be surprised at how willing local organisations are to help get you to your target.

Be flexible

“Be prepared for your plans to evolve and therefore your applications for funding may have to change with them.” Flexibility is key. Kirklington had one clear vision before needs changed, so more funding was required. Be willing to adapt your plans – doing so may open up new avenues of support for your project.

The power of school fundraising

“Involve the parents or PTA in fundraising – they like having a specific goal, we raised £10,000 this way.”

Parents will invest in the future and performance of your school. Enlist their support and embrace the variety of ways you will be able to raise funds. This approach has dual benefits – you will be raising much needed financial support, but simultaneously increasing engagement with pupils and parents about what matters to their school and ensuring everyone feels part of long-term plans.

Widen the appeal of your project

“Donors like to know their money will be spent on benefiting the maximum number of people – if you can extend the use of the building to the local community to improve facilities locally, this attracts interest in the project.”

Schools are increasingly offering spaces for community use, events and it is proving a great way to garner additional support as your investment becomes one of local interest.

Keep donors involved

“Keep donors up-to-date with the progression of the project and invite them to see it when it’s completed – make them feel valued and show your gratitude.” Kirklington built a relationship with donors through clear communication; showing donors how much of an impact their assistance has had will keep them happy and will make them realise that their contribution has been valuable and is appreciated.

Pay attention to the detail

“Read the criteria so that the bids match very clearly the objectives of the group you bid to.”

Obvious as it sounds, some of the funding applications will be complicated and lengthy documents. In order to avoid costly delays, it is imperative you pay very close attention to the criteria and cross-check these against your plans. Make sure your bid meets the criteria. This is where organisations such as Pebble, a service that educates schools on funding availability and helps them to create winning applications, come into their own.

A helping hand with funding

The requirements and criteria for securing funding to help with an expansion depends very much on where you get it from and who is providing it. Of course, there are resources available to help you get to grips with what is on offer and what you need to do. Grants4Schools is a great source of what funding is on offer and for what purpose. Your need does not have to be related to expansion. You can sign up, input information about the kind of funds you might be interested in applying for, search current opportunities and receive updates as new grants become available.

Once you have funding in place you can put the work out to tender. In this case, approved, recommended and experienced contractors can be sourced online, not least via the British Educational Suppliers’ Association.

  • Gareth Barber is from The Stable Company, designers, manufacturers and installers of bespoke timber frame buildings for education. Visit www.thestablecompany.com

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