Doing more with less
How students turned £250 into £20,700, learned lots and had fun along the way
With upward pressures on school budgets and uncertainty about future funding, schools are being pushed into being more creative and innovative in their approach to resource management. In this post, I am excited to share an Acklam Grange School, student-led, school improvement project. By combining the school’s social capital with our students’ enthusiasm for fundraising, we refurbished an outdoor area totalling £20,700 at a cost of only £250 to the school. In July 2018 we were delighted to be shortlisted for a national Education Business Award for School Procurement. Read on to find out what we did…
As well as our formal student voice process, we encourage a culture where students can freely express their ideas.
In 2017, our then Head Boy and Head Girl wrote a letter to the Headteacher which said that students would like to work together on a whole school project like they did in ‘initiative week’ in the first year our PRIDE values were launched (perseverance, respect, initiative, direction and expression).
Anti-bullying ambassadors, as part of their anti-bullying project, had identified that there was a need for a place of sanctuary for any student feeling vulnerable, lonely or needing any support. They proposed that this area should promote friendship and be inclusive to anyone who needs it.
An individual Year 10 student emailed the Headteacher following a PRIDE lesson (our version of PSHE) with the idea of a buddy stop. She had noticed:
“a few children walking around by themselves, so we could create a buddy stop, which is a bench with a sign saying, “buddy stop”. Children could sit there, and other children would join them seeing them sat alone at the buddy stop and they could make friends.”
It was clear that student voice was demonstrating a need for a:
- whole school improvement project
- fully inclusive place of sanctuary, offering support to any student who needs it
- outdoor area promoting friendship
Both formal and informal student voice continued and from this the objective of the project was finalised and communicated:
Developing the school improvement project
Our core SMSC (spiritual, moral, social and cultural) team were challenged to realise our students’ vision. But with very limited funding we had to use our creative skills to the max to meet their expectations.
We designed a school improvement project which was responsive to what our students had already told us and continued to engage students at every stage of project development. The fundamental design of the outdoor area had to come from them if it was to truly meet their needs. The process of bringing it to life could be led by staff and was, but we needed their help to engage our wider school community and secure the resources that we so desperately needed.
Raising funds for the project had three potential strands:
- student fundraising
- external grant funding
- donations from our local business community and school suppliers
Student fundraising is an ongoing trend at Acklam Grange, with students collectively and individually raising money for their specific Year group charities, our school linked charity and any other charities close to their hearts. We needed to find a way to make this fundraising opportunity appeal to them and inspire them to get involved with passion and purpose.
So, in an ‘Alan Sugar apprentice style’ attempt to get students excited and on board, we taped an envelope under one desk in each classroom. The envelope contained a £5 note and a message to the student opening it, nominating them as the fundraising leader for their form group. We’re a big school so that’s 50 envelopes, 50 £5 notes and 50 student fundraising leaders now in circulation amidst an atmosphere of excitement and expectation.
Students were given their instructions: they had a three-week window in which to turn their £5 investment into as much money as possible to support their school improvement project. We wanted to see original ideas, initiative and creativity and there would be rewards for the most money raised and most innovative fundraising ideas.
A wide range of activities took place, from the more traditional bake sales and car washing to some very enjoyable wet sponge throwing (at staff). The prize for the most original idea went to a form group who went out to local businesses and asked for donations of prizes for a ‘high-end raffle’ with a promise of promoting their business in our parent mailing and on our website in the write up of our project (which we did). They secured vouchers for local hairdressers, beauty salons and cinemas as well as electrical equipment, hampers and chocolates. They sold raffle tickets in school and made over £400.
But they were pipped to the post for the most money raised by a Year 7 group who had gone for a more traditional approach of selling items in school. They capitalised on a very hot summer by using their money to invest in ice pops (which sold like hot cakes – or quite the opposite) and made them just under £500.
In total, our student body raised £2,792 in just three weeks for a £250 investment.
External grant funding:
As a school we have had much success in securing external grant funding for projects but on this occasion, in the timescales we were working towards, this was not possible. Luckily, when designing the project, we had a back-up plan, which now had to work if we were going to achieve the students’ vision.
Donations from our local business community and school suppliers:
As part of our PSHE curriculum, students learned about the concept of corporate social responsibility (CSR) and how this fits with our school core PRIDE values. All students were tasked with drafting a letter to a local business which included our project objective. Students were asked to consider:
- What would you say to local businesses and school suppliers to try to secure cash donations or donations of equipment and resources to fund your school improvement project?
- Do you have any links to businesses in our local community which you would like to put forward to receive letters from students?
The ‘winning’ letter from each form group, and any feedback regarding potential business involvement identified by students, were then put forward to the SMSC team. These students were then involved in a letter writing workshop to develop and refine the final letters that would be sent to our local businesses and suppliers to try to secure financial support.
We were overwhelmed with the response that our student letters generated.
- £800 in cash donations from local businesses
- Agreement from two businesses/suppliers to procure specific items (£500 and £1000)
- Agreement from two local businesses/suppliers to support and lead implementation of the improvement works, at their cost, as part of their CSR. This also included support for our students to finalise design ideas.
Whole school celebration and pre-works event
At the end of the summer term we held a whole school outdoor event which included:
- All 1,450 students and 200 staff
- VIP guests/representatives from the local businesses and suppliers who made donations
- Address from the Headteacher and Executive Headteacher
- Address from our Head boy, Head girl, and anti-bullying ambassadors
- Awards to students for:
- Literacy for winning letter writers
- ‘Initiative and Direction’ to the form who raised the most money from each year group and had the most original fundraising ideas.
At this event it was revealed that the estimated total of funds raised for the project was £11,062 to date. Work would start over the summer holiday break and the final plans of what the students could expect to see when they returned in September were displayed and discussed outside and discussed with students throughout the day.
The students’ reaction when it was revealed how much money they had raised was amazing, with a lot of cheering during the event and a buzz around the school for weeks afterwards.
Little did they, or we, know at the time of the event, how generous our donors would be over that six-week summer holiday period. Our business partners took a sincere interest in our project and went above and beyond our expectations to make sure that our students would be wowed with their new outdoor area when they returned in September. We strongly believe that their involvement in our student-led project from such an early stage gave them an ownership of the project and encouraged them to be heavily invested in what we were trying to achieve. We are extremely grateful for the level of support that we received.
The final cost of the outdoor area was £20,700, of which the school invested just £250. This was revealed to students in assemblies and gave them and us such an enormous sense of pride and accomplishment. The yard and learning space that they were now able to use at breaktimes, lunchtimes and during their core lessons was there because they had collectively made it happen. Little people make big things happen. What a powerful message to give our students!
What happened next?
In September 2017 a competition was held to name the new outdoor area. Students chose ‘Pride Plaza’.
Students, local business representatives and VIP guests, including Middlesbrough Football Club’s then manager and first team players, formally opened Pride Plaza to mark the achievements of all involved and the success of the project.
We continue to develop the students’ ideas, maintaining a student-led approach and keeping activities fresh and relevant to changing needs.
Students use Pride Plaza recreationally and during formal lessons as an outdoor classroom/learning space. Student voice now tells us that:
- 98% feel safe and welcome
- 96% belong and fit in
- 97% have reflected on AGS’ three big questions
We believe that what made this project special was the opportunity for whole school student voice and student engagement, directly involving all 1,450 students throughout the various stages of the process. Their involvement led to the overwhelming generosity we received from our local community.
We are very proud of what our school community has achieved and hope that by sharing our project we inspire other schools to try something creative for the benefit of young people across the country. Good luck!