Government cuts have affected schools for many years, despite the fact that education is usually ‘ring-fenced’ from any reductions. The issue, of course, is that while there’s no funding decrease, there’s equally no increase to cover rising school costs, such as salaries and overheads. This results in a deficit that is estimated to be at around eight per cent. Schools are immediately on the back foot, so the resulting knee-jerk reaction of making their own cuts isn’t surprising.

News that all remaining schools must convert to academies by 2022, therefore, has not been met with the most favourable response. Around 18,000 schools will need to convert into academies. It’s not purely the perceived financial implications; there are also worries over the move from local government authorities to central government and concerns over which academies would receive the lion’s share of funding and attention. Then there’s that long-held reputational stigma around academies – formerly, that academies were schools in special measures.

It’s understandable that staff and parents are reluctant to convert, and with opposition from backbenchers, it’s possible that the plan may be delayed. Whether it’s mandatory or not, it’ll be the smarter schools which embrace the change and get ahead – in particular, where finances are concerned.

Most stakeholders will admit that there is wastage and that they probably don’t know what’s in their school inventory, and it’s in this area where academisation actually presents opportunities for schools to regain total control of the budget.

Where the control is lost

At present, there are many avenues down which schools are wasting money, albeit unintentionally –  and most of it occurs due to a lack of asset management. Not having a grasp on the inventory is one of the biggest offenders. For example, not knowing where a particular item is or simply not realising that the school already owns it can lead to purchasing more stock and creating an unnecessary expenditure.

Being unable to forecast and procure equipment intelligently can lead to wastage, too, with warranties running out before repairs or upgrades can be arranged. Or in the common instance where auto-renewed contracts force schools to pay for services that they haven’t used, nor budgeted for.

Another area where the lack of inventory knowledge can have an impact is when an insurance claim needs to be made. Without knowing the full estate value, schools don’t have the adequate evidence or information to make a claim and get back on their feet quickly. The whole process can be a time-consuming nightmare.

Where is this academy-related opportunity, then? While schools remain nonplussed about converting, becoming an academy could actually be seen as a blessing in disguise. When operating without that reliance on local authorities, they will have to become more efficient and these efficiencies can lead to cost savings – covering inventory, premises and contract management.

Students around computer happy

Putting schools back into control

One immediate advantage of becoming an academy is the receipt of conversion costs from the Department for Education. Though funding under the new regime hasn’t been finalised, in the past, schools have received in the region of £25,000.

Theoretically, this could be spent on resources that could further make savings for the new academies. It could pay the wages of specialist governors, should the government’s plan to scrap parent-governors go ahead; bringing expertise and skills which could be shared across all academies in the MAT and really make a difference.

More importantly, the grant could be spent on tools which enable schools to plan more effectively and get the most out of their budgets; where the savings can be made across those three areas:

1. Inventory

Using asset management tracking software, it’s possible to list and manage an entire inventory, negating that whole area of wastage in one fell swoop. This might encompass everything from ICT equipment to furniture, and would give schools total visibility of what they own and where it is.

These resources can be shared among MATs and clusters – meaning that fewer items need to be purchased. This would certainly help if an insurance claim ever needed to be submitted. Plus, knowing what you own can lead to greater forecasting and more effective, collective, procurement decisions – that’s more cost savings down the line and easier reporting for the auditors.

2. Premises

A school is a busy place – it’s hard to keep up with all the activity, maintenance and repairs that needs to be undertaken, some of which result in fines if they are missed. Using some of the savings on premises management software can ensure that even the smallest and seemingly insignificant job is scheduled and won’t go forgotten.

Not only extremely handy for reporting purposes, an automated system like this means that you can keep on top of Fire and Risk Assessments, adhere to health and safety legislation and plan other checks. You can also use the system as a central database for information and records, so that all details are easy to obtain – this could include the results of past checks or dimensions of rooms. Having information at your fingertips ensures accuracy and reduces the time taken to make arrangements – and we all know that time is money. You need never miss an important assessment or maintenance again.

3. Contract management

Equally, asset management systems can be utilised to set alerts for auto-renewed contracts, to remind of important service dates, to store trusted contractors’ details and to schedule work. Any work could be completed across several schools for a discounted price.

Termination dates and notice periods can also be stored, so that schools need never accidently find themselves having to pay for a service they no longer need. Plus, all those contracts can be kept in one place, scanned in, rather than in paper files scattered around the office. The software allows for clarity, communication and ultimately promotes control. You’ll know what to expect, what is needed and by when.

Ultimately, this kind of automated system can promote collaboration, the pooling of resources and visibility of the inventory, which can provide opportunities for schools as they convert to academies. They could save money and put that funding towards essential equipment, exciting projects or more teaching staff.

Though the media may purport the change to academies as all ‘doom and gloom’, it isn’t wholly. It really could be the chance for schools to use their money more efficiently and regain control of their budgets.

If you would like to learn more about how online school asset management software could help you take full advantage of academisation and your budget, please get in touch.

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