The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

Liz Worthen

When finance met fine dining: modelling efficiencies in MATs

Our MATs Summit prelude brought financial management heads together to discuss fairer funding and money-saving in multi-academy trusts.

Models for growth

The afternoon began with an exploration of models and structures led by Matthew Clements-Wheeler, business manager and deputy headteacher at Bordesley Green Girls' School in Birmingham.

Matthew looked at the typical journey of a growing MAT, moving from a 'lead school' model, with an executive head teacher, to a CEO led model, and as the trust gathers more schools, developing centralised services and specialist teams.

Throughout this journey, the HR lead would remain one of the most critical roles, suggested Matthew. You need to keep people with you, explain where you're heading, why, and what their part in it might be.

He also challenged leaders of trusts to:

  • consider what their model offered that was different to a local authority,
  • remember what they wanted to do and why they embarked on this journey.

Is building centralised teams the most efficient model? Why not outsource some functions?

Particular pieces of advice for those embarking on structural change were as follows.

  • If you're restructuring, know why you're doing it. Ask yourself: do we have the time, money and ability to do this? Do we have the capacity?
  • Listen to your pupils; make sure they have a voice.
  • Efficiency and austerity are two different things. Efficiency should be an enabler, and is about doing things quicker, better and more effectively.

Generating and saving money

The second session focused on the topic of generating and saving money. Andy Collings, consultant chief financial officer at the Challenger Multi Academy Trust, started by reminding us that while the UK spends 7 per cent of its GDP on education – making it the biggest spender on education among OECD countries – teachers have seen a 12 per cent drop in the value of their salary since 2005.

And with school cost bases increasing due to factors such as inflation and more pupils with high needs, things are not going to get easier.

So what can schools do to bring in some extra cash? Andy discussed a number of options, such as:

  • school lettings and site usage (though this also generates costs, such as additional insurance)
  • selling services, such as your SLT or support staff expertise
  • government and other grants (e.g. bidding for CIF or strategic school improvement funds)
  • making use of digital vouchers for training via the apprenticeship levy
  • sponsorship opportunities.

Andy also talked about the importance of careful cost base management, such as analysing staffing costs, and asking questions about the affordability of your curriculum and pupil-teacher ratio.

Keeping up to date is vital, advised Andy: subscribe to relevant updates, check grant calendars, review the national funding formula criteria carefully and make use of local networks.

Efficiency strategies

Simon Oxenham, director of resources at Southend High School for Boys and NASBM finance lead, continued the saving money theme in his session.

Simon talked about the need for an 'efficiency culture', and modelling this from the top. For example, when moving to a centralised printing service, it was his own and the headteacher's printers that were removed first. 

What's the per pupil cost of running your school? Simon and NASBM colleagues have created a spreadsheet formula which can be used to show the impact of different scenarios. What happens if pension costs go up again, or inflation increases further? What difference does it make if all your UPS2 teachers move up to UPS3? (If you would like a copy of this spreadsheet tool, contact NASBM – they are happy to share.)

In Simon's own school, this analysis revealed future budget challenges. What could they do to save costs? They considered a range of options, and took action in different areas. These included:

  • reducing the number of teaching periods available for internal cover
  • deploying cover supervisors
  • reducing contact time for the sixth form
  • removing general studies A level
  • reducing the number of computers needed for staff by using laptops and docking stations instead.

Financial sustainability

The afternoon finished with Stephen Morales, chief executive of NASBM, sharing and analysing findings from the public accounts committee's 'financial sustainability of schools' enquiry.

The enquiry found an 8 per cent real-terms reduction in per pupil funding between 2014-15 and 2019-20, along with a requirement for £3 billion in savings by 2019-20.

Stephen welcomes the opportunity the national funding formula is bringing to debate what funding levels are needed and where. Is it time for the DfE to look at the correlation between financial efficiencies and pupil outcomes? What structures do we need to think about differently? Have we got the right skills in the system to meet these challenges?

Valuable questions which no doubt we will be returning to over the next two days of the MATs Summit.

Clarity on funding plans

For further updates on the government's funding plans, and advice for strategic planning in an uncertain landscape, executive leaders in MATs can now register for our Achieving Efficiencies in Multi-Academy Trusts conference (9 May, London).

Find out more

More from Optimus

Fairer funding or financial catastrophe? Stephen Morales on challenging the status quo

MAT governance – changing structure to increase value for money

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