The benefits of benchmarking with Caroline Collins

There are some tasks that can be tedious, and some tasks that can invigorate the working day. For Caroline Collins, specialist leader of education and head of school business strategy and resources at Miles Coverdale Primary School, benchmarking hits the spot. Here she outlines how she has benefited from comparing her school to her ‘statistical neighbours’ and illustrates that benchmarking can be the distinguishing factor when justifying your budget to your governors

I’m sure most school business managers have an area of work, or a task, that they really enjoy. It might be budget setting or the year-end close down, staff restructuring or, even, the health and safety audit. I have parts of my role that I really enjoy and others that perhaps don’t quite make my top 10 list. But there’s one task that I do really enjoy – and actually look forward to doing – which is the annual benchmarking analysis.

Come January I find myself regularly checking the DfE site in the hope that the data has been uploaded, keen to get my Excel template out and start the number-crunching. Whilst the motivation of the benchmarking exercise is to allow me to identify where our school may be over- or under-spending, I often wonder if my enthusiasm for the task is fuelled further by my somewhat nosey nature. I prefer to think that, actually, the enthusiasm is purely a result of my desire to be as efficient and effective as I can be.

The benchmarking analysis confirmed this; our school has been spending significantly more than our statistical neighbours on water

For some time now I’ve thought that the amount our school spends on water bills is too high. The benchmarking analysis confirmed this; our school has been spending significantly more than our statistical neighbours on water. After some discussions with other SBMs, I concluded that something isn’t quite right. As a result, the issue is now being investigated by our water supplier.

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But benchmarking can also help SBMs to lay the foundations for businesses cases. A few years ago I told our headteacher that we needed an additional part-time administrator and, while the head supported this, we both knew that we had to convince the governors that additional spend on admin staff was necessary.

We both knew that we had to convince the governors that additional spend on admin staff was necessary

I often hear how governing bodies are not keen on spending the budget on non-teaching staff so it was important that I had some comparisons to take to them. I had even started to wonder myself if an additional 0.4 post was being over-indulgent and so was keen to research what other schools spend.

As you can imagine, I was delighted to find that our spend on admin was slightly lower than the average amongst our statistical neighbours and was able to incorporate this information within the business case I presented to governors. Two months later the post was filled.

When I conduct benchmarking, I base it on my own specific criteria which I then feed into Excel. From there I extract the data and include it in my report to governors – providing a written summary of the main findings and an action plan for the school based on this information.

The benchmarking data is available on the DfE website during January/February of each year

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