Voluntary action in schools – no longer the icing on the cake?

Published by Peter Manser on 28 August 2018

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A recent research project has revealed the alarming growth in voluntary support (both financial and physical) for primary schools in Kent. The study “A Bridge too far? The increasing role of voluntary action in primary education” is a follow up to the previous research project conducted in 2016 by Alison Body (Faculty Director for Early Childhood at Canterbury Christ Church University) and Eddy Hogg (a lecturer in social policy at the University of Kent).

The data, taken from 306 primary schools in Kent as well as some survey responses and interviews, revealed the following headlines:

  • Voluntary action in primary education has increased with income rising from £41 per pupil per year to £51 per pupil per year (£94 per pupil per year when including PTA income) and time increasing from 12.5 minutes per pupil per week to 21 minutes per pupil per week.
  • 43% (previously 28%) of schools feel they are now reliant on the voluntary action as a necessity rather than a choice. The proportion of schools that rely on fundraised income to deliver basic school activities has risen from 52% to 75%.
  • Schools in wealthier areas attract twice as a many donations and support than those in more deprived areas.
  • Breakaway schools with a strong culture of philanthropy are moving ahead of other schools in terms of voluntary action.

Increase in voluntary action

The continued pressure on school budgets (with no end in sight) means that 70% of schools have reported that they feel under pressure to seek additional volunteer support. Income, in particular, is a real focus with the number of schools who feel under pressure to generate further income rising from 66% to 94%. The knock on effect is that many schools now see fundraising as one of their core strategic goals – rising from 29% to 60% of schools.

These increases are causing schools to change their “model” and start to behave more like a charity than a school whose prime focus should be delivering high quality education. Many schools are now looking at alternative routes to increase income (50% say they sought support from local businesses) as well as introducing certain roles which focus on this i.e. new governors and new employees.

The positive news is that schools are seeing an increase in donations. In the 2016 report fewer than 10% of schools secured more than £10,000 a year through direct donations to the school (this excludes PTA income) but the latest data shows more than 40% of schools are bringing in more than £10,000 per year.

The research also reveals that schools are receiving more volunteer time. However, this data excludes the role of school governors as these are expected to remain stable per the report. This could be argued. The role of the governor has changed dramatically in recent years with more and more pressures being placed upon them as academy trusts grow and develop. Therefore the increase in volunteer time from 12.5 minutes per pupil per week to 21 minutes could be far greater if governors were taken into account.

Working together

As mentioned above the dynamic of schools has changed and those who were the most successful in receiving more income and volunteer time actually asked for it. They were pro-active and sought to draw on the skills and opportunities within their school community. For example, one school referred to in the report hosted a mask ball targeting parents, families, alumni and local businesses raising over £18,000 of profit.

The most successful schools appear to be the ones who receive direct donations to the school and also from the PTA. PTAs are a vital resource and 94% of the schools who have one had much better fundraising statistics. Too often when there is a lack of harmony amongst the two parties, they can “crowd out” they target audience and therefore one of the parties will see a decline in income. It would appear that working together in a strategic manner achieves far much more. One school has gone as far as inviting the PTA to attend governor meetings so that both parties can update and support each other.

Schools are also using the level of community engagement to “set their school apart” and gain an advantage over their competitors. In order to achieve this roles are being created where individuals are dedicated to fundraising and volunteer engagement and support. However, it would appear only the wealthier schools can achieve this with the budget pressures that exist. Others will have to be economical with how they fill such a role and perhaps look for more volunteer support.

Location is a factor

Although the National Funding Formula is designed to help create a plateau amongst schools, this doesn’t change a school’s location and many will continue to be located in more affluent areas than others. The report shows that this has a significant bearing on voluntary action.

For schools within areas considered to be more deprived, fundraising income is primarily from direction donations to schools. Whereas for schools in wealthier areas PTA income plays a more prominent part.

Location also plays a part on volunteer time too. Schools located in wealthier areas receive so much quality volunteer support they are able to make support staff cost savings. Those schools in areas of deprivation generally struggle as they struggle in get parent and community engagement with barriers such as language proving difficult.

This means that the “pool” of potential resources within which schools can operate can vary significantly. As a result, unfortunately rewards do not always reflect the effort or ideas that have gone in. This leaves schools feeling it was a wasted effort and are unlikely to repeat or improve the idea for future years.


With budget pressures showing no signs of relenting, schools will look to continue to improve their fundraising. Therefore schools should look to follow these crucial steps in making sure they “set their school apart”:

  • Be pro-active and ask for help
  • Be specific in your ask – is money or time needed?
  • It should be a collective response involving all parties
  • Maximise existing opportunities and tailor your approach
  • Change the “story” – everyone knows budgets are tight, say the money is for non-basic obligations
  • Invest in people and their skills
  • Look to benefit the whole community, not just the school

Not every school will be able to achieve all of the above due to the various factors that will be specific to their school – location being one of them. So adapt your model according to your profile i.e. don’t establish a PTA if you are in a deprived area because the reward is likely to be minimal.

Whilst many will argue that time is better spent by schools in improving education outcomes rather than a fundraising strategy, without voluntary support that will prove continually difficult.

Volunteers are a vital part of the community but with more requests coming in the level of support will dwindle as society pushes back. Therefore schools should consider implementing the above before they are left behind due to a lack of options.

Make sure you download your complimentary copy of Kreston’s Academies Benchmark Report 2019 here: http://eepurl.com/ge8wvr

This year the report includes over 350 Trusts representing nearly 1000 schools and is based on those Academies that prepared financial statements for the period ended 31 August 2018 and which were audited by member firms of Kreston UK.

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