March 2014

The know zone

  • Do the right thing
    Four recommendations in the recent report on whistleblowing by charity Public Concern at Work are particularly significant for schools and colleges, says Richard Bird. More
  • Save and prosper
    In tough times, ‘resourceful resourcing’ comes into its own. Val Andrew offers business managers a guide. More
  • Fresh look for inspections
    Suzanne O’Farrell examines the implications of changes to Ofsted’s subsidiary guidance and handbook and looks ahead to the new framework scheduled for September. More
  • Post-16 committee
    The focus in this Leader is on ASCL Council’s Post-16 Committee, which has a wide-ranging remit that includes all aspects of post-16 education in schools and colleges. More
  • Great aspirations
    Kathryn Podmore is Principal of Birkenhead Sixth Form College, an active member of several education bodies and chair of ASCL Council’s Post-16 committee. More
  • Ensuring complete representation
    From time to time ASCL Council co-opts members from groups that are under-represented to ensure that the views of all types of members are taken into consideration when debating policy. More
  • ASCL PD events
    Whole School Leadership of Teaching and Learning, Student Voice Beyond Student Councils, and Strategic Behavioural Management that Works More
  • Analyse this...
    What systems, processes and people do you need to help your staff develop their skills and their careers? Sue Bull and Vicky Bishop explain. More
  • Virtually University
    Virtually University (VU) links schools and colleges with universities via videoconferencing to help inform and inspire students with their HE choices More
  • Adding value
    Walk your way to improved health More
  • Poisoned chalice?
    Schools Minister David Laws recently announced a new programme to encourage ‘outstanding’ heads and school leaders to move into schools in challenging circumstances. Would you be willing to take on the challenge? Here, ASCL members share their views. More
  • Leaders' surgery
    The antidote to common leadership conundrums... More
  • Take Care?
    No matter the intention, what you call it or how you present it to students, Personal, Social, Citizenship and Health Education (PSCH More
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In tough times, ‘resourceful resourcing’ comes into its own. Val Andrew offers business managers a guide.

Save and prosper

In a time of recession, a policy of ‘resourceful resourcing’ is central to business strategy in all of our schools and colleges. It means procuring goods and services as efficiently as possible and it requires a mix of common sense, good practice and knowing the rules.

Those who follow Finance Specialist Sam Ellis’s articles in Leader will be aware of the various spreadsheets he has devised to help analyse the most expensive resource we have – staffing. The aim is to ensure that the curriculum is running at the most efficient level and there is no unnecessary waste of capacity.

Staffing costs represent about 80 per cent of the total budget in most educational establishments so it is the obvious place to start conducting a spend analysis. It doesn’t mean that business managers have to be competent at writing timetables and assessing curriculum construction. But there is certainly a need for a basic understanding of how these areas work in order to make strategic decisions about efficiency in staffing.

Meanwhile, the total ‘non-pay’ spend in education amounts to more than £9 billion each year. It’s a significant amount and reducing it could yield savings that, for some, could make the difference between balancing the books and going into the red. Media reports about the positive signs for the economy do not automatically mean that things are going to get better anytime soon. In fact, the lagged effect of funding in education means that we slide into recession slightly more slowly than others, and gradually climb out of it behind the rest of the economy, too.

So what can business managers do to ensure that all areas of the budget are lean, mean and efficient? Resourceful resourcing is a key skill whatever the structure of the organisation, and whether you have experience of it or not, it can be a daunting task.

Following the policy paper Review of Efficiency in the Schools System (June 2013) and the imminent prospect of an efficiency metric that will be used to assess the overall efficiency of each school, academy, free school and so on, the pressures are mounting.

What is the legal position?

All public sector procurement, including education, must comply with the European Union Procurement Directives that are fully ratified within UK law. These are legally binding regulations that safeguard the principles of fair competition and protect equality, transparency and proportionality with some prescribed thresholds to observe.

By adhering to these regulations you will be afforded protection should suppliers challenge your spending decisions/contractual arrangements that could lead to incurring legal fees and ultimate damage to a school’s reputation if such a challenge should be proven. The thresholds were revised at the beginning of January 2014. Some are decreased slightly, reflecting fluctuations in exchange rates. Information about them can be found at

The guidance for spending below these EU thresholds is just guidance but for contracts that exceed the thresholds these are a set of statutory requirements. If in doubt as to whether your contract exceeds the threshold or not, err on the side of caution and don’t forget the VAT element, which is outside of the threshold, meaning that the relevant value is exclusive of VAT.

Maintained schools also have to observe thresholds but these are usually set within the Local Authority (LA) Scheme for Financing Schools, which directly informs individual school finance policies and internal schemes of financial delegation.

What is good practice?

Observe some key steps in the procurement process:

  • Establish need, that is, links to holistic school development/improvement, and cost–benefit analysis; prepare the business case.
  • Explore the options – consider thresholds and contract value, assess value for money and potential for collaboration. Explore frameworks available such as through the Government Procurement Service (GPS), the LA or professional buying organisations.
  • Place the order/award the contract – observing bidding and tendering processes, depending on the value of the acquisition.
  • Manage the contract – including the risks, financial implications, audit trail, ongoing supplier relationship, key performance indicators (KPIs) and so on.
  • Review and evaluate – justify procurement decision(s) and benchmark the outcome. Remember this is public money, so if you’re not happy, say so,

The Cabinet Office is launching some free training sessions about the new EU regulations for all of the public sector, including schools and colleges, from March 2014. Announcements will be made via and you can register to receive updates.

The new EU regulations will also be added as a module to BuyWays (, the procurement e-learning resource for schools. The training covers both the new EU directives and the new procurement legislation for both above and below threshold.

  • Val Andrew is ASCL's Business Management Specialist

How can ASCL help?

We will be running a series of regional workshops during the autumn term in order to support the development of procurement expertise, so watch out for information on the ASCL professional development area of the website; see:

ASCL also endorses the IAAS (Independent Academies Assured Service) Quality Mark scheme, which is a rigorous accreditation process for suppliers, providing assurance to schools and colleges that these organisations are reputable, have demonstrated their commitment to education and have a proven track record.