Expert Voice: Effective Bid Writing for Schools

Sarah Ginns, Research Manager, Forum Education 
In an environment where public funds are getting ever tighter and school budgets are being stretched as never before, it is perhaps unsurprising that an increasing proportion of my work over the past year or so has been focused on supporting schools and groups of schools in bidding for additional funding. When it comes to bid writing, there are some general principles that should guide your decisions, whether your application is to a national body or a small local charity. I’ve tried to capture a few hints and tips based on my experience.

The advice I would give to any school or group of schools when bidding for any amount of money from any source would have to start with “does this funding fit with our school improvement plan, our vision, ethos and the moral purpose with which we run our school or group of schools?” My apologies if this seems obvious but in the funding environment we find ourselves in, there is risk that schools and groups scramble for any potentially viable pots of money without properly thinking through how it will support their aims. In the words of Steve Munby, “when the watering hole gets smaller, the animals start to look at each other differently”!

In making your decision over whether to submit a bid for funding, please look carefully at the criteria before you start the process, to avoid wasting valuable resources on something you are unlikely to be successful in securing. On the subject of resources, think about whether you have the capacity and expertise, not only to make the bid in the first place, but to enable you to deliver the plans you have for the funding should you be successful. We often find that, particularly for larger pots of money from the DfE for example, joint bids from school groups or clusters are more successful, because they are able to demonstrate a wider expertise and greater capacity for delivering their aims. Think about whether this might be an appropriate approach for you and indeed whether it could help to further strengthen some of the existing collaboration between local schools.

 

We often find that, particularly for larger pots of money from the DfE for example, joint bids from school groups or clusters are more successful, because they are able to demonstrate a wider expertise and greater capacity for delivering their aims.

 

The next, but probably the most crucial, element of the bidding process is to look at your evidence. This is two-fold – you must be able to show, through strong data and knowledge of your pupils, a deep understanding of the needs of the different cohorts of pupils in your school, in particular in the context of the community you are working within, so that you can show the need for the funding and how you propose to use it to support pupil outcomes. Secondly, you must also have in place robust KPIs (key performance indicators), through which you can demonstrate that you will be able to show the impact that the funding and consequent interventions have had on pupil outcomes. Whilst it’s tempting to use words and phrases we think the DfE and others want to see, my advice would be to avoid platitudes and buzz words at all costs and focus on clarity and robust evidence. Remember that you will mostly be applying for additional public money through these bids, so it is vital that you are able to demonstrate a commitment to being accountable for both impact and value for money.

As with everything relating to education and schools, your people are your greatest asset, so I would urge you to give yourselves time to properly engage with key individuals and groups as you develop your bid. Whilst it will be obvious to engage with certain colleagues and probably governors and trustees (particularly if you are bidding for a fairly large amount), engaging the wider school community, including pupils and parents, can often give you valuable different perspectives on what could be achieved with the additional funding. If you have the time (and most funding opportunities have a reasonable application window) and you are bidding for a relatively large sum, consider doing some simple market research with pupils, parents and the local community to gather their views. However, keep this proportional, as it will depend on the criteria for the funding and how much you are aiming to secure.

Be creative about using people’s capacity to write funding bids and don’t be tempted always to approach the same person, just because it naturally falls under their core role. We would always advise schools and groups of schools to undertake a regular skills audit of all their staff and governors/trustees, at least once a year, so that additional interests and capacity beyond their usual roles can be identified. Whilst you may wish to secure external support for larger bids (potentially on a success commission if appropriate), for smaller bids you are likely to find that you have a number of colleagues with a passion and talent for writing strong bids and they might not always be those you expect!

“Research skills and the ability to present a cohesive and compelling case are at a premium!”

A note of caution; if you are applying for a relatively large amount of funding in order to support a number of different projects within your school or group, please consider engaging a colleague with project management experience who can be responsible for coordinating all the different elements and ensuring that everything remains on track. Research skills and the ability to present a cohesive and compelling case are at a premium! Again, your regular skills audit will be able to help you identify colleagues with these skills.

Finally, a few practical hints and tips:

  • An obvious one, but please check the deadline! Don’t leave yourselves short of time so that you have to rush the application process; it goes without saying that the more prepared you are the more likely you are to be successful.
  • Look at word limits for the different sections – this is particularly important for DfE applications as they almost always have a fairly tight word limit.
  • Use the spell checker; AND ask someone else (preferably someone who hasn’t actually helped to write the bid) to look at it with a fresh pair of eyes to sense check it against the criteria.
  • Check that any references to research or data you refer to in your bid are up-to-date and referenced correctly.
  • Be mindful of conflicts of interest for staff, governors or trustees when applying for funding. If they arise, manage them appropriately and be upfront about how you have done so.