School Fundraising is About Moral Purpose, Not Gold Bathroom Fittings

All school leaders, by their very nature, want to make a difference to the school they lead. The wisest absorb what is essential to the ethos and purpose of their school and seek to interpret that for the good of the present generation of pupils.

For many of us, this now involves looking at how schools with a long history of inclusive education can remain as inclusive as they would like.

Those who are against independent schools, and regard them as a source of division in our society, would readily argue that joining the state sector would accomplish this aim of inclusivity. But it would not. State schools are always selective  – divided by catchment area, which all too often also means divided by  ethnicity and socio-economic factors. The best independent schools, pursuing their own admissions policies, whether selecting for ability or for character or potential, can be truly very diverse in all sorts of ways. This is something well worth pursuing in a way that matters today.

“State schools are always selective  – divided by catchment area.”

Most independent schools have always had a mix of those pupils who can pay a fee and those for whom an education is possible through charitable donations. That was so when my own school was founded more than five centuries ago, for the young people of a farming hamlet on the sides of the Lancashire Moors.

Money was left to endow a teacher. Those families who could pay for themselves did so and others were paid for. That aim was reinterpreted again when the hamlet had become one of the country’s largest towns, the engine room of the industrial revolution. More recently that purpose worked itself out with the direct grant scheme and after that the assisted places scheme.

There is nothing new in philanthropy and schooling going hand in hand, with those who can pay fees doing so and others being supported. The strident but increasingly stale counter argument is why should it be necessary in the current age when the state provides schooling?

“There is nothing new in philanthropy and schooling going hand in hand.”

But whilst choice and agency exist, and education remains so important to families, then it is a bleak prospect when the universal state school offer also becomes the only and compulsory offer. Independent schools, with their mixed economy, will be with us a few more centuries yet because that choice is part of what we are as people.

Without doubt one of the most worthwhile training courses I have helped run in recent years has been one on fundraising for school leaders led by the IDPE. One reason is how heartening it is to see busy people who have much else to do give their time to attend the training.

It shows that fundraising matters, and that they know it matters because it is how to ensure that their school retains the purpose it needs to have. It is also heartening to hear those different narratives and the sense of purpose of the schools.

“It is a bleak prospect when the universal state school offer also becomes the only and compulsory one.”

All too often independent schools are branded as “cheque book education” for the privileged. That is so far from the minds of the school leaders who attend these sessions. They want diverse and inclusive schools, ones who retain independence and can act for their community however that is defined. To do that, some pupils will pay a fee and others will be paid for. And to achieve that school leaders fundraise, not for “gold taps” and privilege, but for the ethos and moral purpose of their school.

About Philip Britton

Philip Britton is the Head of Foundation of Bolton School. He was brought up on Tyneside, took a first in physics at Oxford and did teacher training at Cambridge. He worked as physics teacher, Head of Physics and Deputy Head at Leeds Grammar School before moving to Bolton in 2008. In 2010 he was awarded an MBE for services to physics and is a Fellow of the Institute of Physics where he has been much involved in physics education, encouraging teachers to encourage the next generation of physicists. Follow at X: @Philip_Britton | View X/Twitter archive | Listen at: Exploring Bolton School | Social Mobility, Leadership & Future School Thinking | Strategic School Leadership with Philip Britton | Strategic School Leadership with Philip Britton