Agnew launches 'rapid feedback' school spending comparison service

The government is launching a “rapid feedback” service to compare similar schools based on how frugal they are.

And academies minister Lord Agnew has warned academy leaders for those not in the top 25 per cent for efficiency to “provide robust challenge” on why.

However, the government has reiterated the new tool, to launch later this month, is there to support trusts, rather than judge them, with “no immediate plans to change that”.

In a letter to academy trust chairs, Agnew said the service will provide information on the “level and direction of spend compared to the nearest comparable schools in the country”.

READ THE FULL LETTER HERE

He said: “Every pound under-utilised is a pound that could be improving your pupils’ education. There may be reasons why your school(s) are outliers, but ensure you fully understand the reasoning you are given and challenge your leadership teams to tackle inefficiencies.”

He also confirmed proposals for Ofsted to focus more on finances during inspections will be trialled from September, adding it will “bring further focus to the issue of financial effectiveness”.

“As ever, I am always open to ideas as to what more we can do from the centre to support you. We do not get enough feedback from the sector. You are in the cockpit. Tell me what you need and if it makes sense, I’ll do my best to support you.”

Every pound under-utilised is a pound that could be improving your pupils’ education

It’s the latest intervention from Agnew to help schools save money. The most high-profile is his school resource management advisers scheme, where mostly school business experts are sent to schools to help them cut costs.

However Schools Week revealed last year how supposed savings including telling a school to replace experienced teachers with support staff on term-time contracts, while another school was urged to limit lunch portions for pupils.

An evaluation of the trial, finally published last month, found just 16 per cent of the savings identified by advisers had actually been enacted by schools.

Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said the findings exposed “how this shameful government was attempting to pour scorn and ridicule on school leaders by saying they didn’t know how schools could run efficiently and weren’t being frugal enough. But it has been proved that these suggested savings were false ones.”

In his letter, Agnew added: “I hope by now that the whole system knows my priority: financial resources made available to schools should be used as effectively as possible. To be clear, this is not because I am taking a narrow financial view.”

To be clear, this is not because I am taking a narrow financial view

Agnew highlighted the government’s additional £7.1 billion school funding pledge, telling chairs the “power at your disposal to improve the education of your pupils with this money is enormous. Good financial management secures your ability to invest to transform lives.”

He added that he believes there’s an “extremely tight correlation between trusts that have strong and effective controls over their budgets and those delivering well above average educational outcomes.

“This is the case regardless of geography, type of school or level of deprivation.”