Abby Young-Powell's article in the Guardian makes depressing reading for state schools, desperate to support their children and families, but without adequate resources. Particularly for those schools serving areas of acute disadvantage, the idea of requesting donations from parents seems embarrassing or even ludicrous.
And yet, from our experience of running a service in schools, a creative and collaborative approach between schools, parents and non-profits might seem to offer some hope. Renaisi's Bilingual Adviser service offers interpreting, advocacy, bilingual parenting programmes and family learning projects to a diverse range of families in London schools, targeting those from minority, migrant or refugee backgrounds. Normally commissioned by schools, the service has been affected by cuts to budgets which mean that the focus on integration and diversity suddenly seems a luxury.
Nevertheless, out of tricky conversations, we have forged some deeper alliances. One school, loath to let the service go, raised money through their Friends group so that they could run our Culture Club - an after-school club part-funded by BBC Children in Need which relies on paid adviser time to recruit parents and children, using their heritage to celebrate the diversity of cultures and languages within each school.
Another school within a very deprived area, which makes it clear how much they value and welcome their parents, allows them to run regular cake and craft sales from which they raise significant amounts; the parents decide on how to spend the money - but it always has a community or charitable benefit.
Meanwhile, a group of six schools is working with us to develop a project for migrant/ refugee mothers with a focus on empowerment and aspiration, through and beyond their roles as parents at the school. They provide the venue space, we design the project, liaise between schools and write the bid.
There are two key bits of learning here:
- When a parent community really decides they want something, they will fundraise and find money, often in very creative and low-cost ways. No matter how disadvantaged they may be economically, their children come first and schools may be surprised by how pleased they are to be asked for help.
- Although the introduction of school business managers might have seen a decline in commissioning external services, non-profits working with children and families are extremely keen to find ways of contributing, and often have funder knowledge as well as time and expertise in project design and bid writing. Working across a cluster of schools within one area will save time and resources as well as deepening learning for everyone.
We know that schools are under severe pressure, that they perhaps feel increasingly locked into results-over-everything and don't have time to focus on fundraising. But if Head Teachers can look up, look around and take a moment to collaborate, they will find that their parents and wider community want to help.
“Fundraising is our only option in the face of inadequate funding,” she says. “It’s either that or schools having to close.” The situation, says Bates, is worrying. “The message time and time again is that there’s no money and we’re seeing the impact on children. It’s frustrating and a very bleak picture.”