Creating a case for support

Applying for a grant takes time and effort but having a case for support will help, says development manager Sharon Noble, whose south London school secured two successive grants from The Wolfson Foundation

Applying in 2015

‘One of my first priorities on joining Chestnut Grove Academy was to get funding for our DT department. This was to be redeveloped under the Priority Schools Building Programme, but we had no money for furniture in the new specialist rooms, and much of the machinery was out of date. We also needed to increase our scope for Computer Aided Design (CAD) with a class bank of laptop computers.

The obvious starting point was the Wolfson Foundation, which has a history of assisting state schools to improve teaching at GCSE and A-level through a capital grants scheme.

Before applying, I worked through the priorities and aims of our project with the DT department and SLT so that we could create a compelling case for support. We knew that demand to study DT was increasing and many FSM students were achieving well in it, but we still needed to justify why we needed funding.

Knowing that better equipment would create more opportunities for all students for many years to come, we came up with the project: Chestnut21 – Updating essential design and technology equipment to provide enhanced learning for our students and prepare them for the 21st century. We backed up the proposal with internal statistics and case studies, as well as regional and national statistics.

Having done this groundwork in advance, the one-page stage one application form was very straightforward. We were delighted to be invited to the second stage application, where more information was required. Once again, a lot of our initial preparation came in useful once again, though it did take time to collate data (including tables of exam results, leavers’ data for recent years, as well as the demographics of the students broken down into year groups).

We also had to break down our budget using Wolfson’s proforma forms, and show where matched funding had been sourced. The information was submitted by email, together with a letter of endorsement from the headteacher.

Before the trustees’ decision-making meeting took place, a member of Wolfson’s expert advisory panel came to meet the head, business manager, DT department and myself. They wanted to see the existing facility and understand what the new one would look like. This was a very useful visit, though it took time to brief staff and prepare the paperwork.

In December 2015, we received the fantastic news that we’d been successful in our bid for £39,000. The impact of the award was incredible, enabling us to expand our DT provision to include CAD, CAM, and to purchase additional equipment such as the 3D printer. The attainment levels of our students improved, the gap between FSM and non-FSM students has closed and we’ve been able to provide new extra-curricular opportunities.’

Applying in 2021

‘With our Year 7 intake increasing from six to seven forms, alongside demand to expand our sixth form provision, we had begun building work on a new block. We needed to provide a new IT suite, as well as upgrading the DT computers funded by Wolfson to enable them to support new technologies.

While investigating potential funding options, I revisited the Wolfson Foundation. Grant recipients must wait five years before applying again, but our first offer letter was in December 2015 and the window to apply went up to early January 2021. A quick phone call confirmed that we could apply again.

As well as upgrading the computers, we needed further specialist IT equipment. Since the collation of information had been so useful in our previous bid, I worked with the IT team and DT department again to determine what our needs were and what we wanted to achieve. We came up with the project Back Up – upgrading IT facilities, enabling increased variety, capacity and quality of STEM courses.

The aims were to:

  • Improve the quality and quantity of purpose designed and furnished spaces for the teaching and learning of IT and STEM subjects
  • Increase numbers of students taking STEM subjects at BTEC, GCSE and A-level, particularly in IT and Art, Design and Technology
  • Increase numbers of students taking STEM subjects at university.

The Wolfson Foundation was by now using an online portal for applications. So although we needed to supply a comprehensive range of information (such as our safeguarding policy), the portal accepted links to our website for some data. This made things significantly easier and quicker than the form used previously.

The turnaround was quick as well – we were contacted just three weeks later and told that we were one of 20 projects invited to submit a second stage application. (The deadline for this was on the website from the outset, so I had already begun the process of collating the information listed just in case.)

We had an incredibly helpful call with a grants manager at Wolfson to discuss our application and develop ideas on how to make our bid more in line with the required criteria. We were advised to make a smaller but stronger request by removing an ask for desktop computers for a common room, as this element would not be eligible for funding.

The second stage application was again through an online portal. There were word counts per question, which helped us prioritise what we needed to say, as well as places to upload documents.

We subsequently received some short email questions from Wolfson’s expert panel about how we would future-proof the equipment, and also what internal expertise we had to ensure it could be used to its full potential. The grants manager also emailed us just before the expert panel’s meeting to check that our fundraising drive to match fund was underway.

To our delight, we were awarded the grant of £22,500 in June – and the process of purchasing and installing the new machinery is underway! We are incredibly grateful for The Wolfson Foundation’s support in increasing our capacity for IT and computer science courses, as well as T-levels from 2022.’

  • The Wolfson Foundation is an independent charity with a focus on research and education. It supports secondary schools with capital funding for science, computer science, design and technology, art, languages, music and performing arts. For more information visit

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