There can be inherent funding challenges involved with gaining specialist status for your school. Crispin Andrews explains how the expanded community role of specialist schools has important financial implications

Specialist schools are an important part of the government’s plans to raise educational standards. They are likely to benefit from the funding and staffing to undertake and lead collaborative ventures with other schools, and have the capacity to work with like-minded organisations within their local community, not to mention time to trial and develop all sorts of innovations for their own students. But specialist status also brings a particular set of issues to the desks of those responsible for their financial management.

Whatever their school’s chosen specialism, to some degree all those who work in financial management within a specialist school will face similar challenges. However the issues are perhaps most clearly seen when looking at two particular specialisms – arts and sports – as the work of staff within these schools must also dovetail with the extensive networks of outside professional and voluntary community organisations that operate in these fields. In the case of sport there is also the matter of a multi-million pound school sport partnership system to administer, through which every child within the state school system is expected by government to be doing five hours of PE and extra-curricular sport a week, by 2010.

Specialist schools

There are currently 2,807 specialist schools across the country. Any maintained secondary school in England can apply for specialist status in one of 10 specialisms: arts, business and enterprise, engineering, humanities, languages, mathematics & computing, music, science, sports and technology. Schools can also combine any two specialisms. Special schools can apply for an SEN specialism in one of the four areas of the SEN code of practice.

Specialist schools receive two sorts of additional funding:

  • £100,000 (per application) for a capital project to enhance the facilities in the subjects related to the school’s specialism.
  • Recurrent funding of £129 per student per year up to 1,000 students for four years to implement their specialist school development plan.

In addition to the £100,000 capital grant, the school itself must raise £50,000 in unconditional sponsorship (less for small schools with less than 500 students on roll, including special schools) towards the capital project. All specialist schools should target at least one-third of their specialist school grant on sharing resources, facilities and expertise in their specialism with non-specialist schools and their local community.

Challenges to consider
Nick Allcoat, school business manager at Bramcote Hills Sport and Community College in Nottinghamshire, sums up the challenge faced by colleagues all over the country: ‘Our teachers and school leaders are coming up with more and more new and innovative ideas that stretch the boundaries of learning and opportunity further than ever before. As financial managers, it is our job to make sure these ideas become reality.’

However, Ian Bryant, business manager at Sir Henry Floyd Grammar in Aylesbury, a performing arts college with a second specialism in science, warns that ‘Fundamentally it’s the same as in any other school – you have a plan, priorities and from this you have to balance needs against available funding. What is important, however, is that as business managers we enable specialist departments to reach beyond the school into the wider community and allow them to create opportunities for other local people, while making sure other departments and school priorities aren’t underfunded.’

Both sports and arts colleges are expected to raise standards of achievement in their chosen area for all their students across the ability range, to facilitate whole-school improvement. Dedicated funding from central government allows more resources to be focused on the specialist area. Often this means employing extra staff, and an extra tier of management in the role of the director of the particular specialism. Whatever the nature of departmental reorganisation, there will be implications for financial managers. And, due to the changing nature of pressures and priorities, the make-up of the specialist department doesn’t always remain static, as Jane King, bursar and facilities manager at the Brooksbank School in West Yorkshire, explains: ‘When we first became a sports college, several members of staff were given additional responsibility points to allow them to carry out specific projects associated with the specialism, such as continuing professional development, research and outdoor pursuits. Since then, the sports college has developed a greater range of initiatives, so we recently decided to employ an advanced skills teacher to oversee these developments.’

Extending links
As regional focal points for promoting excellence, both sports and arts colleges are charged with extending links between families of schools, communities and outside bodies. In sharing resources, and developing and spreading good practice, they are also helping to provide a structure through which young people can progress to careers in the arts, sport and physical education. Key to all of this is the upgrading of facilities and the management of these resources to facilitate greater use by more people.

Nick Allcoat has been involved in several facilities projects at Bramcote Hills. In order to engage a group of disaffected youngsters, a piece of disused Biffa landfill site adjacent to the school has been turned into a BMX track. As well as obtaining funding for this venture from Broxtowe Borough Council, Nick secured £11,000 from a number of local and national charities and trusts, while also accessing a £5,000 Youth Initiatives grant from Nottinghamshire County Council. Additionally, a local cycling development officer stores his equipment at the school, so that it can be used by Bramcote Hills students when he is not out and about in other schools. As part of the School Travel Plan to encourage students to cycle to school, county council funding for a secure, lockable cycle compound has also been accessed. Nottingham-based bicycle manufacturers Raleigh donate a new bike every term through local franchise Tracey Maid, which is then given away to a deserving youngster as part of the school’s reward system.

Over the past three years, Bramcote Hills has had new cricket practice facilities installed, a grant secured from the Lawn Tennis Association to replace nets on the schools tennis courts, and a multi-use games area installed with funding from NOF 3 – a government scheme designed to upgrade sports facilities in key local priority spots.

Nick Allcoat advises schools to make the most of their PTA or friends associations when applying for funding through charities, local authority or central government funding schemes. ‘Some organisations feel that schools are already given enough money through statutory funding – they tend to look more kindly on projects led by a non-statutory body such as a friends association,’ he says.

Across the country at Sir Henry Floyd, a specialist performing arts bloc was built four years ago, using funds raised by the school itself, thanks in the main to parents and governors. The school now has a state-of-the-art performance theatre surrounded by specialist classrooms, a recording studio, a music practice area, storage spaces, changing rooms and offices for the school’s performing arts team. ‘Specialist facilities enable our teachers to achieve so much more and allow students both from our school and others, not to mention local people, to have opportunities and experiences they would otherwise have to go much further afield to get,’ says business manager Ian Bryant. ‘They are also a good source of income, as the facilities can be hired out to local music, drama and dance groups.’

Provision has financial implications
Both sports and arts colleges are expected to be inclusive by promoting enjoyment of, and development in, as many different artistic forms and physical activity areas as possible. It’s not enough to simply provide for those students who already like sport and art. Provision has to be for all and this will have financial implications.

If a particular activity is popular and there is no one on the staff with the necessary expertise, then either staff training must be arranged or outside professionals brought in. At sports colleges this might include street dance, judo, yoga, tri-golf, cheerleading, or even parkour – the trendy new form of urban free running seen at the start of Casino Royale. In arts colleges it is the same – creative practitioners from a wide range of musical, drama, dance and many other groups are always keen to offer their services and utilising their expertise can enhance and extend what schools can offer in terms of both curricular and out-of-school-hours provision.

A cost is always involved and with many such projects going on within a school, a system able to cope with making ad hoc payments to numerous and divergent groups of individuals is needed. In Birmingham, at Wilson Stuart School and Sports College, a school for children with physical disabilities, finance manager Debbie Rush has developed a system that enables her to deal with not only school, sports college and school sport partnership concerns, but also matters relating to the specialist SEN outreach service offered by the school, as well as projects commissioned by the Youth Sport Trust and projects financed by Big Lottery money. She says: ‘We have one account but, within it, a whole range of cost centres, so that whenever money comes in or out we can quickly allocate it to its correct centre and keep track of exactly how much is coming and going and where.

‘This enables me to send individual reports to, say, the director of specialism or the partnership development manager, who runs the school sport partnership, to keep them up-to-date with what has been spent in their areas – without them having to waste time sifting through the whole of the school’s accounts,’ she adds. ‘This is particularly important with the school sport partnership, whose funding year is the academic not the financial year – we have to have two accounts for them that run six monthly to make this work more smoothly.’

Funding challenges
Three years into his second appointment as a school business manager, Ian Bryant sums up the most significant future challenge facing colleagues in all schools, but particularly specialist colleges, where staff are expected to deliver so much more than just core provision. He explains how the tightening of central government funding over the next three years – at 3% growth rather than the 5% at which it has been set for the past three years – means that schools will need to be more innovative in finding the funding necessary to continue to add additional value to their core offer.

With Building Schools for the Future not set to hit Buckinghamshire for another 11 years and with school buildings well past their predicted sell-by-date, already Ian is casting his net further afield in search of potential sponsors and business partners. ‘You need to show businesses what they can get out of being associated with your school or a particular project,’ he says.

Nick Allcoat agrees: ‘You need to tap into all available sources of funding and work with whatever partners who may wish to use the schools facilities, or be associated with the school and its projects, to see what financial support they might be able to offer.’