Time to get creative.....

Picking up the newspaper at the moment almost feels like deja-vu - it seems that there is always a story at the moment about the ‘funding crisis’ facing the education sector.   

We don’t need telling that we’ve all got huge financial pressures at the moment – I can sense the chewed down fingernails and piles of Excel spreadsheets that adorn SBM offices up and down the country. The politicians say that 52% of us will be better off under the National Funding Formula (NFF). I think 100% of us are reeling at the size of the cost pressures we’re all facing, irrespective of what the elusive NFF may or may not do for us.



I am somewhat pragmatic though about the challenges we have ahead, and ever so slightly optimistic. My wife calls me many things, sane and rational rarely amongst them, so, let me explain.

I like the pressure of working to ensure value for money. I believe it is a time when we get to be truly creative, to drive innovation, to be brave enough to do things differently… because we have to.  The status quo is not sustainable. We must do something different and find new ways of working. 

The truth is that budget setting in schools is too often based upon looking at the current year budget and adding a bit here, or taking a bit off there. We rarely take the time to truly deliver a programme of Value for Money.

So, what do I mean by developing a culture of Value for Money? Firstly, - value for money is not about cutting to the bone, far from it.  Sometimes you need to spend the money to invest in the future.  It’s about making sure we’re spending on the right things.

There’s a few ways of doing this that I find really helpful.

  • Get everyone on the right path
  • Don’t reinvent the wheel
  • Focus on the hidden spend
  • Set targets, - but don’t be average!


Get everyone on the right path

I believe it is important to develop mean a deep, pervasive culture that runs through every single facet of the academy or MAT. It doesn’t just mean getting three quotes and picking the cheapest. It’s about getting back to brass tacks (maybe literally) and saying, what do we need, why do we need it, and then, crucially, is there a way we can do this in a better way?

Matthew Clements-Wheeler, in his brilliant blog post on here a couple of weeks ago (http://bit.ly/2o6Tbww) discussed the Professional Standards document, and how this applies to leading Support Services.   The same document goes on to talk about Finance  (http://bit.ly/2p770Qq), and has VfM scattered throughout.  It’s clear that recognising and pursuing value for money is a core skill, and one that leaders should look to develop in staff throughout the organisation.

Don’t reinvent the wheel

Fortunately, when it comes to big ticket items, there are many procurement frameworks out there that have done the legwork in terms of tenders and claim to ensure you receive value for money.  There are significant savings to be had from following this route, however, you can also do it yourself.  We have recently saved more than £300,000 over the next 5 years from tendering the catering contract for one of our secondary schools. Quite a substantial saving, in anyone’s book.

Hidden spend

But, it’s the smaller items that just tick through where there is usually always value to be had.  When was the last time that you reviewed stationery prices for example?  Can you restrict the purchasing options down to selected items on which you can arrange larger than published discounts from your suppliers?     Can you buy in bulk?  If you’re in a Trust, or can work together with other local schools, do you all need to buy your own exercise books, or can you buy a larger batch in one go.   



Set targets

Now, I’m the first to admit being cynical of benchmarking reports, if you don’t have the detail to go with it.  After all, if the average is held up as the place to be, who wants to be average?  And, you have to consider the knock on effects of x on y – e.g. if I reduce my spend/head on facilities management, what impact will that have on the quality of environment our children experience, and is that ok? Reform, the national think tank, published their report on VfM, which makes some interesting reading.  http://www.reform.uk/publication/value-for-money-in-schools.   


By Stephen Mitchell - April 2017