Academies – publicly funded independent schools which don’t have to follow the National Curriculum –generate a lot of discussion, both of their unique educational standing, and their models of funding.
Because academies receive their funding direct from the government, rather than through local councils or local educational authorities, there has always been pressure on the academy Trusts, which run their operations, to be as cost-efficient as possible, while maintaining educational standards.
Many continue to face the twin pressures of stagnant income and rising costs. There are a number of simple steps academy Trusts can take to remain on top of their budgets.
For the majority (65%), staffing costs are one of the key areas where savings could be made.
However, it is worth pointing out that tackling staffing costs does not simply mean reducing staff, particularly on the teaching side. Instead, costs can be reduced by:
Trusts could work more efficiently through greater flexibility within contracts. Sharing teaching expertise between schools within a Trust, through mobility clauses, could allow schools close to each other to reduce their reliance on supply and agency teachers.
Some Trusts procure resources for teaching and then shape the curriculum to fit these resources. Naturally this leads to inefficiencies because curricula change, and pupil needs are constantly evolving.
Planning a curriculum should not only form the very first part of a Trust’s educational plans, but also their business plans too. Building a curriculum plan based on pupil need and then procuring resources to support its implementation helps to keep costs down.
Reviewing policies and rewarding staff
Some Trusts found they could significantly reduce staff costs by tweaking existing policies.
Monitoring and adjusting sickness policies for instance can lead to a reduction in costly absences. Also, thinking creatively – as one academy did – and appointing a pharmacist to visit and administer flu vaccinations can have positive effects.
Investing in staff is also important, particularly in a competitive environment where there is a limited pool of teaching staff for an increasing number of academies. Retaining staff through incentives avoids costly hiring processes. In one instance, the introduction of a robust appraisal system saw high-achieving staff rewarded for their performance and improved retention rates.
Investing in specialist professionals has paid dividends for some academies.
The appointment of a dedicated Procurement Manager to research and obtain resources has saved some Trusts both time and money. By incentivising the Procurement Manager’s remuneration package with a commission-based approach, gained from the savings generated, a more efficient budget can be developed.
In some cases, contract management has formed part of the Procurement Manager’s role, so that in effect, they take ownership of the Trust’s contracts on a long-term basis, where they are incentivised to take on cost-efficient contracts, rather than onerous contracts for short term gain.
Evaluating resources – and their replacements – can also prove worthwhile.
It is not always necessary to replace one resource with an exact replica. Over time, some resources become less valuable while others take on greater importance. When a resource needs replacing, careful consideration should be given to other options. This can be particularly fruitful in IT products and services, where the lifespan of devices and software is becoming much shorter.
Basic financial good practice can also impact significantly on a Trust’s bottom line.
Ensuring that payments are reviewed and checked regularly can avoid duplication or late-payment fines. For example, reviewing the direct debits every month can ensure the Trust is only paying for what they use and for what is relevant, as well as ensuring servicing is being conducted efficiently without duplication.
It goes without saying that while cost reduction is important for Trusts, none of the above should be at the expense of improving educational outcomes.
The cheapest solution is not necessarily the best solution and rather than looking at bottom lines, analysis on value for money should remain the primary concern. A cheap solution in the short term could be costlier in the long term, if the product or service provider is not as good and the product is not fit for purpose.
Equally, a service provider who is cheap may be so because they lack experience or the ability to provide the service, which could lead to problems in the future. Contracts should also be read carefully to ensure decisions are made on a like-for-like basis with no hidden costs.
We have the experience and expertise to help academies review their budgets and identify opportunities and efficiencies.