External sources of funding for schools and education

Written by: Brin Best | Published:
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There are a wealth of organisations that give funding grants to schools and education-related projects.
Brin Best gives us his overview of the best external funding sources out there, including examples and tips for school fundraisers

Every year, billions of pounds in external funds are available to secondary schools in the UK to enhance and extend educational opportunities. In this article I will provide a whistle-stop tour of these funding sources, highlighting those that are proving especially helpful to schools during this period of challenging financial times.

My aim in this overview is to:

  • Help you recognise the wide range of external funding sources that are available to your school, despite the challenging economic climate.
  • Enable you to learn about some of the funding sources that other secondary schools are currently benefiting from, which you may not yet have considered approaching.
  • Provide some starting points to connect you with specific funders who can help your school.

Strength in diversity

The good news for school fundraising coordinators is that there is a great diversity of external funding sources available to UK secondary schools, with no less than seven distinctive categories of funds and literally thousands of individual funders within these.

Indeed, entire books have been written on this complex topic. Therefore in this article it is only possible to provide a snapshot of the huge number of potential funding sources for your school. In selecting the funders to list, I have focused on those that have the best track record in funding work in secondary schools.

The National Lottery

Since its inception in 1994 the National Lottery has been a generous funder of enrichment work in UK schools, through several discrete funding streams.

The National Lottery funds work that is undertaken in addition to your statutory duties as a secondary school, providing funds that allow you to do something new, including for example community projects.

Thousands of schools have been successful in gaining funds from the following Lottery-funded schemes over the last two decades:

Example: A school was awarded a £20,000 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund for a project celebrating the former mining heritage of the area. It involved pupils interviewing former minors, the publication of a book of photographs and a community play.

What next? All the major National Lottery funders have well-maintained websites which include up-to-date information on the latest schemes and priority areas for funding.

Grant-making trusts

Grant-making trusts are organisations (often charities) which have been set up by wealthy individuals or companies in order to give funds for work which is deemed to be in the public good. There are thousands across the UK, some very small and some huge, giving away hundreds of millions of pounds every year.
An important factor to bear in mind about such trusts is that they tend to work in specific ways – both in terms of what they fund and which location(s) within the UK they will give money to (and this can change each year, with the shifting priorities of the charity).

For this reason, it is essential to do your research into potential funders before making any applications.

Example: A school was awarded a £25,000 grant for a major family literacy project running over three years, which focused on improving reading and writing skills of both pupils and their parents/guardians.

What next? There will usually be an organisation working locally to you supporting the work of charities and those offering grant-funding (e.g. one such body in Yorkshire is called Voluntary Action Leeds).
They should be able to give you free access to (and practical support in navigating your way around) a comprehensive online database of UK grant-making trusts.

Look out also for the paper edition of the Directory of Grant Making Trusts (published by the Directory of Social Change), which is available in many larger libraries.

European funding

Despite Brexit, UK schools will be able to access many of the European funding streams after Britain leaves the EU, much as numerous non-EU countries do today. This is because many of the most significant European funding streams are linked to a country’s geographical position in Europe, not its membership of the EU.

Thousands of UK schools have been able to access significant European grants for twinning projects and curriculum development work with partner schools within the continent.

These have resulted in some pioneering and highly regarded educational projects, which have brought many benefits for pupils and wider communities. There is a new focus on eTwinning as a route to funded projects.

Example: A school received £4,000 in funding to enable it to participate in a project that brought together a network of schools from across Europe, to study learning around water and its various influences on people. Among other things this grant allowed staff to attend overseas contact meetings with teachers from many other European countries.

What next? You can find out more about eTwinning, and the funds it can release at www.britishcouncil.org/etwinning/funding

Raising funds from businesses

As secondary schools have become more business-like in how they conduct their affairs, so the opportunities to connect with businesses and benefit from their support has also increased. Although most schools have at least basic links with businesses, others have shown what is possible when much more significant partnerships are created.

An important point to bear in mind about businesses is that their support can come in the form of cash donations and donations “in kind”. These are donations – in the form of goods or services – that schools would otherwise have to purchase. They also include gifts that can be used as part of raffles.

Example: A school received £12,000 from an IT company to help create a state-of-the-art ICT for learning suite, which was named after the company. The company was owned by a former pupil of the school, and the support was linked to additional free training for staff, worth another £3,000.

What next? Many schools have expanded their business links by first carrying out a questionnaire of parents/guardians to determine which businesses they work for, or even run.

A further vital reference source is your local Chamber of Trade/Commerce (they normally have their own website), a membership association which helps to bring business together for the benefit of all.

Donations from individuals

Until a decade or so ago donations from individuals was largely the preserve of independent schools, whose giving campaigns traditionally target former students, who often prove to be a lucrative source of income.

However, such campaigns are now becoming increasingly more common in state schools too, even extending (somewhat controversially) to blanket appeals to all parents/guardians for a fixed amount of money.

Also, in kind donations from individuals should not be overlooked – it may be that your parent/guardian community has a range of skills that could benefit your school. It is sometimes easier to ask for help in this way than to ask for out-right financial donations.

Example: A school was offered a free poetry evening featuring a well known British poet, which raised more than £2,000 (mainly through ticket sales) towards the refurbishment of the library.

What next? Given the complexities and potential pitfalls around donations from individuals it makes sense, before beginning major work in this area, to team up with a school that has achieved success and to learn from their experience.

Awards and competitions

Awards and competitions are a neglected area of fundraising for many secondary schools, despite the fact that numerous schools have shown what a valuable source of additional funds they can be – not to mention the prestige and excellent publicity that comes through winning such prizes.

Awards and competitions are, therefore, a great way of bringing additional income to your school while also raising the self-esteem of the pupils who are involved.

Example: A school was awarded £3,250 to implement pupils’ ideas on how their school can be made more environmentally friendly, in an initiative organised by a sustainable development charity.

What next? You will need to monitor a wide range of print and online media to find out about competitions and awards aimed at schools. Many schools appoint volunteers (usually parents) who monitor information sources on behalf of schools, feeding back to the fundraising coordinator when new opportunities are spotted.

Income-generation activities

Perhaps the most significant area of development for secondary schools is the growth of income that has been secured through income-generation activities. Chief among these has been the use of school buildings and grounds to boost income through lettings, special events and all sorts of other imaginative uses.

Example: A school receives around £3,500 annually by letting its hall and kitchens for Asian wedding celebrations.

What next? In the resources section of my website (see below) I have included a tool containing 50 suggested income-generation activities for schools. You can also download this from the online version of this article at http://www.sec-ed.co.uk/best-practice/external-sources-of-funding-for-schools-and-education


Once you have identified the potential funding sources for your projects, attention must turn to the preparation of the all-important funding applications. I will discuss the critical topic of writing applications in my next article for SecEd in the new year. As I will explain in that article, writing high-quality applications is an art as well as a science, and requires creativity and determination in equal measure.

  • Brin Best is an award-winning educational consultant with 25 years’ experience of fundraising in schools. He is the author of several best-selling books, including Cost-effective Fundraising for Schools. Visit www.brinbest.com

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