Outside the school there is a physical wall where supporters – usually parents and former pupils – can donate £25 to have their name displayed on a real brick. Longstanding business sponsors may also be featured on this wall as a 'thank you' for their support.
These reciprocal initiatives were dreamed up by Balsall Common's director of funding and publicity Howard Rose, who feels that promoting the mutual benefits of community partnerships is a vital part of relationship building. 'Obviously the school benefits, but so do businesses because they enjoy getting involved with our projects – and it makes them look good.'
Clearly, he adds, supporters who simply post their company logo on the virtual wall will have less of an impact than those who demonstrate they are genuinely passionate about working with the school. 'Paying £150 to be on the sponsor wall represents fantastic value when compared to straightforward local advertising, but it's just the beginning,' says Howard Rose. 'Many of our ongoing sponsors publicise their involvement with the school themselves, through LinkedIn and Facebook, and also by tweeting and submitting stories to the press.'
Underlying such promotional activity is Howard Rose's broader strategy to develop sustainable and meaningful relationships that work for both partners. 'At the heart of this is how we enhance and enrich learning for the children,' he says. 'However, if we're asking businesses to support our wish list then we need to create ways to thank and promote them. What I felt was important to stress online was just how beneficial such partnerships can be for business, often in ways that go far beyond a corporate social responsibility requirement. The more our parents see positive publicity involving a sponsor, the more they use their goods and/or services – and this gives sponsors an edge against their competitors.
'The sponsor pages also help attract more support for the school, as people can see our track record immediately, and they know that working with us can help generate positive coverage for them.'
According to the Department for Education, 'every school should engage fully with their local employer and professional community to ensure real-world connections with employers lie at the heart of the careers strategy'. That's certainly something that the Mark Rutherford School in Bedford has taken on board, and, indeed, promotes strenuously.
'Our strategy has been to give businesses a reason to work with the school – and then build on that relationship,' says Sam Baker, head of business and education partnerships at the secondary school. 'There is a strong engineering sector in our region – and companies are well aware of the importance of tapping into a pool of future talent.
'We actively promote any projects we do with business partners on our school Facebook page and LinkedIn. We also write a lot of press releases for local media and display these on professional boards in our school reception area, effectively creating a physical wall of sponsors. The idea is to have something physical where we can show our appreciation for our business partners and raise their profiles. One benefit is that we have been able to raise the profile of local companies that are industry leaders in their field but that students have traditionally overlooked because they are not household names.'
An important activity that the school promotes extensively is its regular twilight networking events between businesses and students, parents and teachers. These tend to be organised around a particular topic, for example digital skills or engineering, and they provide a valuable framework for high-quality conversation and a productive ideas exchange. 'We invite in around 200 businesses over the course of the school year and we've had some incredible spin-off ideas,' says Sam Baker. 'People who often haven't been near a school since they left school themselves come out feeling inspired and brimming with ideas.
'For instance, one civil engineering company decided to set up an extra-curricular geography club for Year 7s, while other businesses have offered to run workshops or even support students through their education. We've found that the best things happen when you create opportunities for them to happen, and that publicising our partnerships acts as a draw for other businesses to approach us.'
'So far we have sponsored the Balsall Common newsletter, allowing the school to print it in colour each week. We have also sponsored the Summer Gala, in association with the PTA, attended several other quizzes and events, and we have just agreed to sponsor the new school rugby kit. We look forward to becoming more involved in future events and continuing our relationship with the school.' Midshire (independent office technology reseller)
'We are proud to sponsor the Balsall Common Primary School cooking club and have provided free range eggs for the past two years, helping to create cracking cakes and perfect pastry for all the budding chefs. The support we give helps the children to appreciate where food comes from, and the alternatives to the supermarket.' Oaks Farm Shop
'As a supporter of Balsall Common Primary School, John Lewis has been keen to get involved and has so far run a history day and an in-store toy-testing lab, as well as making Christmas jumpers with the school's fashion club. We are looking forward to becoming more involved in future events. The children are learning while having fun, and we are able to give something back to the community. In the future we hope to be more hands-on, to join in the fun at the various functions throughout the year and help raise funds to support the school.' John Lewis, Solihull