How to build and sustain a highly efficient school

Efficiency is one of those buzz words that is thrown around a lot, but what does it really mean and how can it be applied in a school setting?

Different education initiatives which have been developed over several years have contributed towards improving operational effectiveness and driven a commitment to value for money. However, you might be surprised to hear that some schools continue to operate in a very inefficient, manual and paper-based fashion. These unnecessary levels of bureaucracy, which include multiple layers of sign-off, add no tangible value and slow down processes which could be streamlined.

To investigate this inefficiency further, and to try and reach solutions, the National Association of School Business Management (NASBM) conducted research into the operational effectiveness and efficiency of schools and produced the report Guidance for Improving School Financial Outcomes

This research asked school leaders questions about their understanding of the strategic deployment of resources and effort. As a result, the report suggests a series of continuous improvement strategies that schools can put in place for better financial outcomes.

“The notion that a drive for greater efficiency is an attack on precious education resources is a result of a narrative perpetuated by a perception that efficiency translates directly into cost-cutting, reduced resources and capacity and, ultimately, a drop in a school’s ability to improve children’s life chances,” Stephen Morales, chief executive of NASBM, said when discussing what efficiency means in a school setting.

“Efficiency should, in fact, be seen as the opposite. If we subscribe to the definition above, any changes to the level of inputs should not adversely affect outputs and, indeed, should enhance outputs in a truly efficient system.”

The report emphasises that the school leadership team, including the school business manager, must build a culture that promotes collaboration and good value for effort; it also says that governors should hold the SLT to account on financial management matters. Therefore, as a solution to inefficiency, the report suggests that governors with financial skills should be recruited and schools should ensure that finance and budget is regular agenda item in governor meetings.

 Another area it targets is student data. Accurate student data is critical and can incur a lot of effort to capture and verify. The report suggests, therefore, trying innovative techniques to maintain accurate student data, such as adding additional fields to consent forms for school trips and capturing this information into the student database when the forms are returned.

In terms of streamlining financial processes, the report advises using a digital payment portal to manage online payments from parents. It also suggests that using BACS to pay supplier invoices rather than cheques, will save time that would otherwise have been spent on writing cheques and money in relation to postage costs and bank charges for cheques.

Time is money

As they say, time is money, and being efficient with your time is just as important as being efficient with your money. Everyone in a school setting is short of time and seems to have a never-ending to-do list, especially SBLs. Therefore, it is imperative that the value and importance of different tasks is well understood to avoid spending a lot of time on wasteful or non-essential tasks. It is also important to ensure that necessary tasks are completed as efficiently and effectively as possible.

One of the main time-wasting culprits is meetings, which are often time-consuming and ineffective. The report says to rethink how time is used and to not keep going to meetings every week to discuss things; instead, focus on what you want to achieve and devise actions to enable you to achieve those goals.

When it comes to procuring more efficiently, the report suggests that group purchasing arrangements can negotiate much better pricing than individual schools can. There are many government and local authority procurement frameworks available for schools to access. These frameworks have agreed bulk purchase deals with a range of suppliers, are fully compliant with EU requirements and do not require further tendering – creating a win-win situation for schools.

Making sure that you are streamlining processes, finding value for money and encouraging collaboration in everything you do during the school day is the key to building, and sustaining, a highly efficient school.

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