School Resource Manager Advisors
With the economic crash in 2008 and the government’s subsequent commitment to reduce the national budget deficit, the country has suffered ten years of reductions in spending on its public services, local education authorities (LEAs) have experienced unprecedented cuts and education directorates have not been immune. The growth of the academy sector has also left some LEAs unable to sustain traded services historically offered to their schools. This has inevitably led to schools, both maintained and academies, being required to access expertise either through their salaried staff or by procuring outsourced solutions.
It should therefore come as no surprise that, for those schools unable to attract or retain the skills of an effective school business professional (SBP), this new landscape has been very challenging.
An integrated approach to curriculum design and resource allocation
Many schools and trusts struggle to fully appreciate the link between curriculum ambitions, operating costs and income. Not understanding this interrelationship is often a symptom of a lack of joined-up or integrated strategy where governance, pedagogy and business operate in silos rather than pillars of leadership with a common purpose and inclusive approach to decision-making. This often leads to ineffective prioritisation of resource allocation and staff deployment.
There are a number of well-established approaches to curriculum-led financial planning, but there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Indeed, many of the tools have failed to properly accommodate primary schools. However, the underlying principles are applicable to all schools. Figure 1 provides a high-level view of how curriculum ambition, operating costs and income are all interrelated.
Bringing this all together at a strategic level is clearly critical to a school’s/trust’s long-term sustainability and success.
National Leaders of Education Business
Accessing the skills and experience required to lead on the effective management of resources, underpinned by an effective approach to curriculum-led planning, is clearly a sector-wide challenge.
In 2015, ISBL (then NASBM) first began to float the idea of National Leaders of Education Business with the then Minister for Schools, Lord Nash. We wanted to offer the sector access to our most capable and experienced SBP practitioners in the same way that school leaders are able to procure support from National Leaders of Education (NLEs) and National Leaders of Governance (NLGs). With a growing number of technically skilled and qualified ISBL Fellows, we felt ready to provide better access to these well-established school business leaders.
Lord Nash liked the concept and quickly brought other senior civil servants into the conversation. It was out of these early conceptual discussions that the concept of School Efficiency Advisers (SEAs) was born.
SEA pilot then SRMAs scaling-up
Lord Agnew took office in September 2017 and made SEAs an early priority.
The focus for this group of advisers was:
- A review of multi-academy trusts:
o Financial health
o Resource allocation
o Staff and leadership deployment
o Organisational design
o Leadership and governance
o The quality of data and reporting
- Providing recommendations and innovative solutions all underpinned by the principles of integrated curriculum-led financial planning.
The recruitment of advisers for an SEA pilot commenced in September 2017.
A pilot assessment panel consisting of senior education leaders and practitioners including CEOs, consultants and expert SBPs presided over a rigorous accreditation process.
Sixty-six practitioners came forward to undertake the accreditation process, of which 40 were eventually assessed as meeting the required standard to undertake an adviser deployment as agents of the Department for Education.
The first round of deployments commenced in January 2018, and the SEA initiative was later rebranded as School Resource Management Advisers (SRMAs).
Accessing the skills and experience required to lead on the effective management of resources, underpinned by an effective approach to curriculum-led planning, is clearly a sector-wide challenge.Stephen Morales
Lessons learned and next steps
The feedback and quality of reports from each of the deployments has been excellent. Indeed, the majority of the trusts that have participated in this initiative have been very positive about the SRMA experience and have welcomed the recommendations.
The pilot phase concluded at the end of the last academic year. Lord Agnew and his team were so pleased with the results that they decided to move to a full-service procurement exercise and released an invitation to tender in August 2018.
In September 2018, the Institute of School Business Management was appointed as the induction and accreditation body for this initiative.
Since the pilot phase commenced in January 2018, SRMAs have identified savings with a value close to £35m.