It’s no secret that schools need to make savings. Budgets are fully-stretched and headteachers face difficult decisions about what to cut next.
Although not all schools can make the same level of savings, every school can save money. This doesn’t have to mean last-resort cuts to staff or valuable services, which can feel inevitable.
We can learn more about how to make the right kind of savings by thinking about the diversity of budgets and outcomes across the sector.
Some schools appear to be very efficient if you compare their income with their results, while other more generously-funded schools may struggle to satisfy regulators that they are meeting minimum standards. In this scenario, contextual factors may have a role to play.
Where two very similar schools achieve similar outcomes with similar socioeconomic communities despite a huge disparity in terms of funding, we should be asking some difficult questions about their resource deployment, procurement behaviour, estate management and strategic financial planning.
Indeed, there are numerous examples of lower-funded schools outperforming higher-funded counterparts with almost identical characteristics. These are the schools that we can really learn from.
Perhaps understandably, schools tend to cut their cloth based on the funding that they have historically received, creating structures and spend trends accordingly. This is a difficult position for schools to unwind from: service contracts will have been agreed, staff employed on a permanent basis and projects committed to.
But even in this situation, school leaders can make sure they are optimising their current resources by asking themselves these questions:
1 Is there any duplication of effort?
2 Is there any unnecessary manual intervention?
3 Are contracts routinely reviewed for value for money?
4 Is a procurement strategy in place?
5 Do we have a costed short-to-medium and long-term life-cycle maintenance plan?
6 Is automation realising efficiency?
7 Are management levels appropriate for the size of the organisation?
8 Have collaborative opportunities been enthusiastically explored?
9 Has a meaningful benchmarking exercise been carried out, either nationally or locally (preferably both)?
Ideally, headteachers will have access to a qualified school business leader and will not own this problem alone. But school funding will continue to be an issue, so all schools will be forced to look closely at how they are responding to the efficiency challenge.
Stephen Morales is CEO at the National Association of School Business Management, which is transitioning to become the Institute of School Business Leadership this year