Things used to be simple. Local Authorities provided school places for our young people. They had responsibility to plan, deliver and operate facilities. Budgets were allocated to a single body enabling strategic planning across an estate. As we move into a modern world with an expectation of increased choice and empowerment, the traditional model is under stress. Wider choice and opportunity is a good thing, however as with all things in life, it’s never that straight forward.
The current devolved model has Local Authorities, Multi Academy Trusts (MATs), Academies and Free Schools all competing to provide education for our young people. Budgets are spread across the numerous provider organisations and place planning responsibility still resides with the authority. This approach makes joined up strategic planning and budget expenditure efficiencies more difficult to achieve.
The way schools are graded, league tabled and evaluated through a constrained review process can also stress the effective allocation and expenditure of budgets. There is a need to realign the school review criteria, strategic need, operational need and delivery of assets to improve both capital and resource budget efficiencies. Some aspects of this are easier to achieve than others. An initial step would be for education providers to align their estate programmes to support delivery of authority / strategic level issues. This has the potential to release additional budget at MAT / Academy / School level through aligning the resolution of strategic level issues and local level issues to gain additional funding contributions through Section 106, SEND etc. contributions.
Local Authorities, the Education Schools Funding Agency (ESFA) and many other organisations and service providers give access to data regarding education need, economic planning need, budget allocation / availability etc, which individually are useful, but when pulled together can be very powerful in supporting high level economic and strategic mapping, and better business case proposals. Interpreting the data helps education providers better articulate how their proposed projects / programme applications address strategic and local need, demonstrating benefits to all parties. The creation of a win – win environment starts to address the growing disparity between strategic need and project identification.
There is an increasing requirement for special educational needs and disability (SEND) provision. Local authorities have a duty to find and allocate places, and they are increasingly turning to private sector provision as main stream declared allocations make main stream provision difficult. The cost differential between a mainstream placement and private provider placement is circa six times. Having the data to strategically map current and growing need and overlay place and space data enables highly targeted business cases and fund mapping which together help to resolve strategic and organisational need, resulting in a better service provision for local parents and young people. Likewise, the ability to map space availability and utilisation against an area need for places empowers organisations to work with authorities to expand and better utilise existing facilities. This approach could reduce the need for large scale expansions and additional buildings and whole schools, reducing overall budget expenditure, but enabling increased expenditure on improving existing facilities and building condition. It also increases organisational revenue through additional place availability.
The lessons learned here are:
- Understanding the high level ‘system’ (local authority / policy) need and trends helps organisations position funding and scheme applications to better effect.
- Budgets are increasingly under pressure. However, there is sufficient budget availability if a different, joined up data led approach is deployed.
- Working with sector expert consultants, like Faithful+Gould, can improve organisational outcomes and budget awards.