School finances: Boosting your budgets

Written by: Sara Martin | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Budget pressures continue to build, with little sign of respite ahead. Sara Martin looks how schools have been creating opportunities in the local community and beyond to stretch and boost their budgets

New findings once again highlight that budget pressures are weighing heavy on the minds of secondary school leaders, with 53 per cent expecting this to be the biggest challenge on the horizon, according to The Key’s annual survey.

So how are schools responding? More than a quarter of secondary schools told our annual survey that they would need to make savings of more than eight per cent of their expected costs to balance their budgets in 2017/18.

For some schools that’s hundreds of thousands of pounds to find. While this may not come as a particular surprise in light of the volume of news coverage on the current funding situation, more surprising perhaps are the methods of income generation that schools are turning to.

While the school funding system should not rely on entrepreneurial efforts in schools to make ends meet, we have seen more and more school leaders looking for ways to raise much-needed funds.

School leaders report renting out their buildings as wedding venues, opening nursery provision, and even running second-hand shops to raise funds for their school. Others told us how they were working with local businesses – not to mention using qualified staff to provide fitness classes to the wider community.

While not every school has the facilities to host a wedding or open a nursery, all schools can play to their own strengths and think creatively about opportunities that may be open to them. So what might these opportunities look like? They will differ from school to school, but here are a few creative ways that schools are generating extra money and making what they have go further.

Work with local businesses

It is important that you know what the aim of your business engagement is – developing a fundraising strategy may help to establish how the school envisions partnerships with businesses forming, from the outset. One school, for example, creates a “wishlist” of projects or resources that they would like to come from their relationships each year.

Business arrangements take many forms and do not necessarily require significant amounts of staff time and energy. One school in Solihull made an arrangement with a local restaurant. The pupils designed a new cover for the children’s menu, and each time a customer orders a meal from that menu, the school receives a 50p donation.

Communication is key when working with businesses and a staff member at this school maintains the relationship by keeping the restaurant up-to-date about how the funding raised through its donations is being used.

Good relationships with businesses can also lead to further opportunities. For example, another school’s partnership with Hilton Hotels led to members of Hilton’s staff using their annual corporate-social responsibility day to help with repairs and maintenance across the school site.

This school has a number of “passive” income streams like this which earn a combined total of £5,000 per year. It also benefits from a number of sponsorship partners – for example, the school’s newsletter is sponsored by a company that prints copies for free.
In another example, a trust of two secondary schools has developed a membership scheme, wherein local businesses pay an annual fee in exchange for promotional benefits provided by the schools.

Working with local businesses in this way raises money for the trust, while also providing pupils with opportunities. The pupils work with businesses in the scheme on curriculum-linked projects that aim to help them to develop new skills and stay engaged with their subjects.

Make the very most of your premises

While not every school has the space or facilities to let, this does seem to be a valuable method of sourcing extra income for many of the schools we surveyed. Could any local groups in the community make use of your facilities? One school in Nottinghamshire hosts a wide range of activities, including scout groups, training sessions for local sports teams, monthly cinema nights, and business meetings.

The school sets different rates for business and community groups – the business rate is similar to those for leisure centres or conference facilities, and the community rate is a lower charge.

Providing catering in-house can provide more flexibility and could be offered as part of a more attractive lettings package for groups like this.

Other options include providing your car park as additional parking facilities for nearby events or weekend shoppers, or teaming up with car-boot sale organisers who pay the school a percentage from each car’s entry fee.

Reach out to the community and beyond

It is common for schools to turn to their communities for support. Parents and the wider community will often voluntarily lend time, and not just cash, to help school budgets stretch further.

For example, asking parents to help with DIY projects at weekends can remove the need to employ contractors or additional members of staff.

There may also be opportunities beyond your immediate community. One small school in a rural area received 25 books from a publishing house for free, simply because the headteacher asked. As she put it to us, the worst that can happen is that somebody says “no”. Other schools have received donations of playground equipment, arts supplies, and even vehicles.

  • Sara Martin is a researcher specialising in school funding and finance at The Key, which provides leadership and management support to schools.

Further information

To view further free guidance for schools on generating additional income, visit


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