Dominic Savage says alternatives to buying equipment outright are worth exploring for schools with budgeting problems. The budget given to the school in any year should be spent for the benefit of current pupils," a speaker at a recent conference I attended said. All very well, but there is a tension between the logic of this statement and the fact that a high proportion of schools carry forward funds every year.
One local authority survey of underspending last year concluded that all its schools could offer legitimate justifications for their surpluses, but did these actually match any real financial forecasts?
The head teacher of the comprehensive school where I am chair constantly reminds me that a school is not a business, but it must be business-like in its approach. On this basis, getting your financial act together on resources issues must include effective long-term planning, investigation of alternative resource solutions, and consideration of different purchasing options.
An impressive 95 per cent of state schools now have a development plan (survey by the British Educational Suppliers Association, BESA 1994), but the majority of local authority schools have a plan of three years' duration while those in the independent and grant maintained sectors often have one for five years' duration.
An increasing number of teachers are clearly being given purchasing responsibilities. For these individuals to fulfil their remit effectively, the development plan and the annual budget must be widely publicised and discussed within the school, so that everyone is working to the same long-term objectives and recognises the scheme of how they will be achieved.
For individual teachers, purchasing decisions will normally be of the physical resources for the classroom or school laboratory. For these to be made in the most informed way, it must be worth investing time and travelling expenses for teachers to investigate new resources at events such as the Education Show. Initial visitor analysis at the BETT technology show at Olympia in January suggests that something like a third of the country's schools sent teachers.
Another factor which increasingly has to be considered is alternative methods of funding new resources. The traditional approach for schools of saving up to purchase outright is not always the most appropriate solution today. As well as implying a loss of benefit to current pupils, this approach ignores the other, different solutions which can allow a development plan to be achieved more quickly.
"The photocopier sales rep" may have become a generic term associated with anyone suggesting a contract or promoting leasing, but it is time to think again. An increasing number of schools have experienced successful leasing arrangements, often through the purchase of computers.
This trend is set to grow and can be pursued without tears by taking a few simple steps. Leasing arrangements offered via educational manufacturers and suppliers, particularly those you know already, should be considered first.
However, if you have a package of equipment to source, you may want to consider a more direct relationship with leasing companies. There may, though, be dangers in dealing with those whose leases are written for commercial customers, for instance where the expertise is in company tax issues that are irrelevant to education. Three actions may assist: o Consider using a leasing company with which other schools have a successful arrangement or ask the company to provide a list of schools using their services and check up with a few of them o Give some priority to companies which go out of their way to demonstrate a service geared to education and have a brochure that describes leasing in an educational context with arguments that show an understanding of schools.
It should be said that leasing in education is in its infancy and there have yet to be initiatives which bring the leasing industry together with education in the way that the British Educational Suppliers Association code of practice bonds so many educational suppliers. This does not imply that companies should be forgiven for lack of experience or understanding, but rather you should put your faith in those that demonstrate a commitment to education.
o Do take advice. LEA schools would do well to check a leasing contract with their education office and other schools should consult their financial adviser.
Finally, it may seem obvious, but it is worth remembering, that the products to be leased must be expected to last beyond the length of the lease!
With careful planning and good communication between departments to avoid duplicating resource purchasing, and time invested in good investigation along with willingess to consider new funding ideas, there is the potential to achieve more from your budget and for the process to offer greater satisfaction with quicker evidence of results.
Dominic Savage is director of the British Educational Suppliers Association, 20 Beaufort Court, Admirals Way, London E14 9XL
British Educational Suppliers Association - stand 405