Funding the future

How do you deliver an excellent education without sufficient government funds? Kevin Yardley, director of income generation at The Generations Multi Academy Trust in Hertfordshire, shares his experiences

‘When my son came home one day and told me his school needed someone like me to help raise money, I offered my support. The school had done a brilliant job in educating my son, who is autistic, but it was part of a trust with one of the lowest funding ratios per pupil in the country. There was a mismatch between the quality of education it aimed to deliver and the funds available – and it was looking for someone to bridge that gap.

I’d started my career as a criminal barrister and swim coach, going on to work for a national leisure provider, and then as a leisure industry consultant involved with the 2012 Olympic legacy. That entrepreneurial background meant I had the skillset to work with the school at a strategic level to generate income, primarily through lettings. Initially, I asked to work as a consultant so that I could view things as an outsider. Last year, I accepted an invitation from our executive principal, Alison Garner, to become a permanent member of the core team.

Everything I do is focused on the end goal of delivering a fantastic educational experience, both through providing better facilities and opportunities for our students, and by generating income from those services to feed back into education. Our young people are part of our local community, so if we’re generating income from lettings (such as after-school football and theatre groups), it’s likely that many of our students will be benefiting from those activities.

Changing our culture

The first thing I did on taking up the role four years ago was to look at the commercial deals and partnerships the trust had in place, assessing what was bringing in income and what wasn’t working. One issue was that Broxbourne Council was paying a flat (and rather low) fee to let out our facilities. There was little benefit to us, and the council wasn’t keen to continue because of the lack of facilities investment, and the fact that bookings were often cancelled at short notice in favour of school activities.

If we wanted to generate more income, we had to change our culture and our approach. We needed to demonstrate our support for the community on our doorstep through more effective and open communication with all stakeholders, including our staff. People don’t change unless they can see the benefits, so it was important to take an inclusive approach.

We took back control for bookings, introducing a new system that both our staff and external hirers had to use. It took several months to fully embed, but it’s now almost seamless. Teachers and other staff have bought into the idea that in many cases it’s our children who are attending the activities that generate our income. Moreover, the trust has become a community hub for local businesses to run health, wellbeing and cultural services which align with our ethos and educational goals.

Developing our community offer

After looking into the local demographics, we set out to attract new user groups. There is a large South Asian community on our doorstep, and families were paying huge amounts for venues to host large gatherings. So we opened the school halls as a venue for large family parties, from weddings to birthdays, christenings and anniversary celebrations. We’ve also hosted South African swing band nights, and language classes run by the local Greek school. We continue to develop this work and are currently looking into pop-up dinner clubs.

Creating flagship facilities

To take our lettings activity to the next level, we needed a game-changer. This came in the form of an ambitious initiative to upgrade the 3G pitch at our Goffs-Churchgate Academy site. Our groundwork established that football was hugely popular in this area. Yet both the local council outdoor exercise plan and the Football Association pitch development plan highlighted a shortage of 3G facilities. The low supply, combined with high demand, suggested we could ensure good occupancy levels.

We decided to fund the work through the trust’s financial reserves, which ensured that any income generated could be focused on improving educational outcomes (whereas funding from the Football Foundation specified any surplus be redistributed within football). To demonstrate demand, we worked with leading local football providers to establish their needs, detailing the frequency of booking and the price they would pay. We presented our trustees with a full breakdown, including a risk analysis showing the break-even point for the project and estimated time to recoup the initial investment at different occupancy rates.

We installed the best quality pitch we could, and it has paid off. Tottenham Hotspur has made us the premier site for its women and girls’ programme, while Sport England and the County Sports Partnership have brought in additional business by flagging up our facilities to hire. With this new pitch alongside our second 3G pitch at Goffs Academy, the trust is at the heart of the local football ecosystem.

Where can the money go?

Our income generation work has allowed the trust to increase the number of teachers and reduce their contact ratio, giving more time to plan high quality lessons, mark and evaluate. We hope that the reduced loading also assists in recruiting and retaining great professionals. In addition, we’ve supported capital projects, such as upgrading classrooms and sports facilities.

The trust recently began construction of a new block at Goffs Academy. This will deliver classrooms for our expanding Sixth Form, in conjunction with a new public gym operated by a commercial partner. The building has been financed through an operating lease, with the cost offset to a large extent by the income from the commercial gym.

The impact of lockdown

We obviously lost income during this period, but we’ve had our strongest ever months since restrictions were eased. Managing things in line with DfE guidance has been demanding but critical to get right.

Listen to Kevin Yardley discuss his experiences on the podcast:

Tips for smaller schools

Many schools understandably say they cannot afford a development officer, but can you afford not to have one? A successful person should begin generating a surplus shortly after they are engaged.

Look for entrepreneurial, innovative people who are happy to be employed on short-term contracts. Look within your existing community – you may be surprised by the skills waiting to be utilised.

Every school is different, so develop partnerships that will work for you and your community. Take a holistic overview to change mindsets and take time to build relationships. It is essential that your partners and lessees feel valued and respected.

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