Government cuts have affected schools for many years, despite the fact that education is usually ‘ring-fenced’ from any reductions. The issue, of course, is that while there has been no funding decrease, there has equally been no increase to cover the rising normal ‘costs of living,’ such as pay rise, and other overheads. In effect, this has resulted in a deficit that represents around eight per cent per year, putting schools immediately on the back foot and forcing them to look for further cost reductions.
Combine this with the news that all remaining schools must convert to academies by 2022, and you can start to see the strain that UK schools are under and why many have not reacted positively to this announcement. In total, around 18,000 schools will have to convert to academy status; that said, the government may be putting the brakes on its plan to force all schools to become academies after running into strong opposition around this. Whatever happens, more and more schools are starting to go down this route than not and most schools accept that this is inevitable.
It is not solely the perceived financial implications of this news that many schools are outraged about; there are also worries over control moving from local government authorities to central government, over which academies would receive the lion’s share of funding and attention. Add to this the long-held reputational stigma around academies – formerly, that academies were schools in special measures - and it is understandable why staff and parents and indeed a number of government bodies are reluctant to convert. However, whether mandatory or not, the smarter schools that embrace this change will be the ones that get ahead.
The government argues that academies drive up standards by putting more power in the hands of head teachers over pay, length of the school day, term times and so on, providing more freedom to innovate. Right now, most schools admit that there is wastage, duplication and cost savings to be made, especially around resources. If you think about it, there is very little sense for a primary school with a couple of hundred children to have its own IT manager, a facilities manager, a business manager and so on. More often than not, all of these roles are lumped into one part-time caretaker who is jack-of-all-trades but master of none. Equally, many schools do not even know what they have in their school inventory, and these are all areas where becoming an academy actually presents opportunities for schools to regain control of their costs.
As outlined above, there are many avenues down which schools are wasting money, albeit unintentionally. For example, consider the lack of asset management in schools. Not having a firm grasp on the school’s inventory and therefore not knowing where a particular item is, or simply not realising that the school already owns that item, can lead to purchasing excess stock and creating unnecessary expenditure.
Being unable to forecast and procure equipment intelligently can also lead to wastage, with warranties running out before repairs or upgrades can be arranged. Another common scenario is where auto-renewed contracts force schools to pay for services that they have not used or budgeted for.
Lack of inventory knowledge can also have an impact when an insurance claim needs to be made. Without knowing the full estate value, schools do not have the adequate evidence or information to make a claim and get back on their feet quickly. The whole process is not only time-consuming but can significantly affect a school’s overall performance.
Therefore, while schools remain nervous about converting to academy status, this could actually be a blessing in disguise. By becoming an academy and pooling resources between institutions in a multi-academy trust (MAT), schools can share resources, costs and become more efficient.
Putting schools back into control
One immediate advantage of becoming an academy is the receipt of conversion costs from the Department for Education. Though funding under the new regime has yet to be finalised, in the past, schools have received in the region of £25,000.
This grant could be spent on resources to make further savings for the new academies, or to purchase solutions, which enable schools to better plan and get the most out of their budgets. For example, using asset management tracking software, it is possible to list and manage an entire inventory, negating a whole area of wastage. This might encompass everything from ICT equipment to furniture, and would give schools total visibility of what they own and where it is.
These resources can also be shared among MATs and clusters, which means that fewer items need to be purchased. This would certainly help if an insurance claim ever needed to be submitted. Additionally, knowing what you own can lead to greater forecasting and more effective, collective procurement decisions. The net effect - further cost savings down the line and easier reporting for the auditors. At the same time, facilities and contract management systems can be utilised to set alerts for auto-renewed contracts, to remind of important service dates, to store trusted contractors’ details and to schedule maintenance.
A case in point
Here at Parago Software, we are helping many academies and MATs to share resources and streamline their audit processes, which not only saves time but also helps to cut unnecessary costs. For example, Kent Catholic Schools Partnership, a multi-academy Catholic Education Trust, is using Parago’scloud-basedasset facilities and contract management systemto manage assets across multiple schools. As a result,the Partnership has accurate data on what the schools actually have in their inventory. Therefore, if a school has demand for something, such as iPads or laptops, which can be satisfied by another school, it can easily identify this and doesn’t have to buy unnecessary items.”
At the end of the day, it is this sort of collaboration and pooling of resources and visibility of the inventory that can provide opportunities for schools as they convert to academies. Though the media may purport the change to academies as all ‘doom and gloom,’ there are clear benefits to be realised. This really could present the chance for schools to use their money more efficiently and regain control of their budget, which is exactly what Kent Catholic Schools Partnership has achieved.
Paul Haines is head of marketing at Parago Software