Improving efficiency and a strategic approach to value for money

Even with ‘little extras’ school budgets remain stretched. For SBMs, who are often ‘time poor’, the need for greater efficiency – and to make savings and secure better value for money – has never been more paramount. EdExec has looked into research by Every and the DfE to identify four ways you can improve your strategic approach to value for money and free-up more time

1. Establish mindsets and perspectives
SBMs need to establish a culture of value for money (VfM) throughout the school. SBMs need to act as both leader and educator of other staff and governors in relation to VfM. It is less a case of chasing down every receipt, and inspecting every purchase, and more about developing the staff and governor skills and processes needed to support this culture.
It is about getting everyone to accept that VfM is not solely the SBM’s responsibility; rather, it is a shared responsibility. When supported by the headteacher and senior leaders, the importance of VfM can be instilled across the whole school community, and grounded as part of the culture, rather than being something the SBM needs to constantly address.
2. Constructive feedback
While senior leaders may point the way forward, front-line service-users also have an important role to play in assessing whether or not the resources they have been provided with are efficient and effective. This is more likely to be achieved if the school has an open culture in which individuals are encouraged to give constructive feedback. For example, is the teaching assistant assigned to a particular class adding value? Is the reason that a piece of software is not being used teacher inertia, or because the software is inadequate?
The more end-users are engaged in the procurement process, the greater the likelihood they will contribute to the school’s aim of achieving VfM in its purchasing.
3. Skills and capacity
Do key personnel and, in particular, the SBM, have both the skills and capacity they need? Ensuring VfM requires a range of skills at different stages of the procurement process, including:

  • product knowledge: for example, knowledge of the functionality required from ICT equipment and the requirements of specific groups of pupils.
  • purchasing options: for example, the ability to carry out a best value analysis on the relative merits of buying or leasing a school minibus.
  • negotiating/bargaining skills: for example, the ability to achieve reductions in the price of a service, without a reduction in its quality.
  • understanding contract law: for example, when considering the lease of a photocopier.
  • evaluative skills: for example, when assessing if the outputs from a purchase represents good value for money.

If these skills are not present the school should invest in developing them. While it may not be essential that the SBM possesses them all, the school should ensure that it has access to them all. In some instances this may mean drawing upon sources of external support, such as private consultants.
4. Technology
Working in a role where many SBMs are consistently reported as being ‘time poor’, technology is vital tool to help improve efficiency. It’s recognised that technology offers significant opportunities to increase efficiency across school operations, saving time in the process. Software systems and technology allow for faster processing of data and easier retrieval of information. Tasks performed by people can be time-consuming, and the results full of human errors. When technology is used for repetitive operations mistakes are reduced or eliminated, and the time it takes to complete the task is greatly reduced.
In addition to making processes quicker, technology also makes it easy to find information and keep it up-to-date. Instead of searching through a room full of filing cabinets, a few clicks of the mouse can pull up all relevant information from a database and alerts for dues dates can be set up; what used to take several minutes to an hour can now be done instantly. Furthermore, cloud software enables SBMs to stay connected and solve issues when offsite.
Which of these four approaches have you got nailed in your school – and which might you, perhaps, need to do more work on? Because the end goal is well worth working towards – true value for money, an improved financial situation and a bit more credit in the SBM time-bank.
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