Jenny Powell 21 January 2015

School funding crisis

Recent reports warn that schools are facing an increased funding crisis that will result from higher than expected pupil intakes.

It is estimated that by 2023 an additional 880,000 places will be needed and funding simply isn’t in place for these numbers. The government has pledged £7.35bn, but the cost of this rise is expected to be £12bn.

Local government is understandably wary that it may be called upon to fund the shortfall, but with cuts already underway, what else can be done to fund growing numbers without compromising services elsewhere?

Instead of looking from the top down, a possible solution would be to reverse the view and look at what can be done on the individual or micro scale to offset the risk. With austerity rightly remaining a watchword and recession a not too distant memory, budgets are likely to fall under even greater scrutiny.

Possible solutions for further and higher education centres might focus around the diversification of their offerings in order to maximise income from fixed assets. Putting existing facilities and infrastructure to use during ‘down-time’ could generate a valuable revenue stream to offset any cuts.

However, for schools on a smaller scale, these options are less viable – the scale and facilities required are lacking and the opportunity is therefore not feasible. Smaller institutions must therefore pursue other options in order to maximise their available budgets.

Procurement and shared services are a vital weapon in the arsenal for smaller establishments to make savings and combat the shortfall that may be to come.

Using a professional procurement company may not immediately appeal / be the initial consideration, but the expertise and leverage that an experienced procurement team can bring to the table more than offsets the fees charged and can bring tremendous Return on Investment .In an environment under financial pressure, recognising where best to deploy available resources, and when to use third party expertise, can make a big difference.

The savings that could be made, whilst not guaranteed to bridge the funding gap, could make significant inroads to part-fund additional classrooms and resources at schools.

Government funding is targeted at new free schools and academies and, although the majority of these are in areas of great need, the needs in other areas will have to be met by local government and, in these instances, innovative and diverse approaches could resolve the gap between cost and funding. Should funding materialise from government then the savings realised can be made available to other improvements in facilities or service provision.

Either way being smart about budgets and maximising spending efficiency will reap the rewards in years to come without resorting to austerity measures in the short term.

Jenny Powell is owner and director of JDP Procurement Services Ltd

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