Schools

DfE wants schools to find £1bn savings to cover rising bills

The DfE also vowed to help schools cut energy and water use, fund more finance training and improve flood and crime defences

The DfE also vowed to help schools cut energy and water use, fund more finance training and improve flood and crime defences

10 Jun 2022, 11:27

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Robin Walker

The government wants to find another £1 billion of savings in schools and trusts, freeing up funding to “prepare for and manage” rising energy and other costs.

School leaders warned the strategy would not be enough to make up for soaring costs and “inadequate” funding, and said the cost-cutting drive could prove controversial.

But officials say everyone has a “duty” to spend wisely and the strategy was not about reducing spending, with schools able to keep and reinvest savings made.

Schools Week recently reported on the DfE declaring victory on a past similar push for £1 billion of savings. A teaching union dubbed it “shameful” and experts called some savings claims “eyebrow-raising”.

‘Step change’ in school resource management

The new school resource management strategy published today aims to “unlock” the 10-figure sum by driving a “step change in the way SRM is prioritised and delivered”.

Much of the strategy includes existing support, but new plans to save money include:

  • Helping schools “monitor and reduce” energy and water usage, and get better deals
  • Funding for a second round of aspiring chief financial and operating officers to study relevant diplomas after a pilot, plus more free webinars for all from the autumn
  • Better resilience against crime, such as “CCTV or better securing schools’ perimeters” and offering cyber-attack insurance to trusts through the risk protection arrangement
  • Potentially expanding the school resource management adviser programme. Schools Week recently revealed more than half of schools said advisers found them no new savings, though most still recommended and praised them
  • Working with schools most at risk of flooding to install “resilience measures”
  • Promising to “invest” in board training, and new board guidance on multi-year planning and budget setting in the autumn
  • Supporting new induction materials and development materials for school business professionals guidance, alongside a “refresh” of Institute of School Business Leadership’s professional standards
  • Updating workforce guidance to “maximise” staff deployment, updating financial checklists and value standards for schools, and expecting all schools to use integrated curriculum and financial planning (ICFP)
  • Pledging to cut bureaucratic burdens, including improving digital services schools find it “difficult to navaigate”, potential “rationalisation” of guidance, and cutting “planning time and workload” through the DfE’s new curriculum body
  • Widening the rollout of the “capital advisers programme” after a pilot , with expert support on improving estate management capability at “trusts who need it most”

‘Value for money will not make up for rising costs’

Schools minister Robin Walker said: “We want every school and academy trust to be getting the best value from their resources, in turn helping them prepare for and manage emerging pressures, including increases in cost of living and energy prices.”

Paul Whiteman

The document says the DfE aims to “help schools and academy trusts collectively unlock £1 billion of efficiencies for them to reinvest to secure excellent outcomes”.

Stephen Morales, chief executive of ISBL, said in its introduction his organisation “welcomes the emphasis on the importance of SRM”.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said tools to achieve value for money were “useful”, but added: “Schools are facing unprecedented cost pressures, from gas and electricity price hikes to surging food costs.

“Achieving value for money will not make up for insufficient funding to cover these rising costs.”

The DfE said using its resource management strategy was entirely optional for schools.

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