Sweating the small stuff applies to finances as well as results

20 Feb 2020, 11:08

Rowena Hackwood says her list of efficiency suggestions have prompted a flurry of support, but achieving sustainable savings come from creating a value-for-money culture

When it comes to efficiencies, the steps we are taking at DRET make educational and staff sense, as well as giving the trust opportunities to make savings.

We are not alone in the sector in questioning the value of supply teachers for emergency cover, and asking ourselves whether it makes more sense to employ cover supervisors. Similarly, limiting non-essential travel and using technology to communicate and engage with colleagues not only makes financial sense – it adds to staff wellbeing by avoiding lengthy journeys. And having non-teaching roles approved by me means that we think twice about the best use of our resources.

Nobody likes to be told they are being wasteful, but the truth is that we can see unconscious wastefulness wherever we look

These are sensible management approaches to relieving the funding grip we and many others find ourselves in. Many more are just plain common sense economically – not to mention environmentally.

Considering whether documents really do need to be printed or photocopied, and when they do, printing double-sided and in black and white. Making a conscious effort to switch lights off when you leave a room. Turning off your computer when you aren’t using it. Being conscious about which recycling bin you are using so that additional costs are not incurred. Not filling the kettle to the brim if you are only making one cup of tea.

These are all things we typically do more of, and better, in our own households, yet less so in our places of work. Why? Because too often our places of work aren’t set up for it. That has to change.

And that’s the central point: I want every member of staff to think of every penny as though it was their own. ‘Efficiencies’ and ‘value for money’ get bandied around all the time, but they don’t mean much unless we look at the everyday spend as well as large-scale items.

Elite sports coaches obsess with marginal gains to move performance onwards and upwards, and while we are all used to looking at education performance in that way, the same level of discipline is not consistently applied operationally and financially.

It is commonplace for a MAT to live and breathe the collective responsibility of educational outcomes, but the same cannot be said of financial outcomes. Why does this matter? Because, at a very basic level, if an organisation is financially at the limit of the possible, then everything else is for the birds.

If an organisation is financially at the limit, everything else is for the birds

The financial concerns of the sector are very real. To address them, we need real solutions. Some of this can come from big-ticket structural changes – such as pooling gag, and curriculum led-financial planning – which at the headline level will have a significant impact. But some of the change we need to make must be behavioural too, and undertaken at an individual level.

Nobody likes to be told they are being wasteful, but the truth is that we can see unconscious wastefulness wherever we look. In my Trust, for instance, a 10 per cent economy in the use of electricity would release a six-figure sum to reinvest in the classroom over the course of a year.

The pressures of the environment, the pace of the work, the rhythm of school life – all of these contribute to an environment in which it’s difficult to take a moment and reset behaviours. It’s all too easy to carry on as we always have. Meanwhile the pounds continue to slip through our fingers.

But we can do better – and what’s more, it’s pretty clear from the messages I received from my peers in other trusts that there is a will to do so as well. And so, while lists of savings garner attention and are easy to criticise or copy, the challenge is to create a sustained and sustainable culture of efficiency. There is a real and growing appetite for that among senior voices in our sector, but economic marginal gains are everyone’s job.

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  1. Time was when teachers were in one school building and not scattered over a trust. There was no need then for ‘lengthy journeys’.
    During my twenty years of teaching, I often paid for classroom materials. My primary colleagues used to load up with offcuts from a local paper mill which they paid for themselves, for example. This kind of thing still happens.
    In such circumstances lectures on switching-off lights when leaving the classroom tend to rankle. Why not install movement-sensitive lighting? This was in my classroom 25 years ago. Trouble was, it kept going off if I was working after school and I was plunged into darkness. I had to keep waving at the sensor to make the lights come back on while trying to avoid banging my shins.

    • Mark Watson

      Time was when we all lived in the village we were born in and never left it. Times change.

      Teachers spend their own money on classroom materials, food, medicines and all sorts of other things. They should be lauded to the heavens for this (and no, it’s absolutely not right they feel they have to do it). But are you saying that if they do that they should be allowed to waste energy?

      • Mark – it does not follow that by pointing out that teachers often use their own money to top-up what they’re given for classroom materials that I’m saying this gives them the green light to waste energy. That’s a strawman argument.

  2. She has been in post for several years. DRET has a £1m deficit when it started with £0 deficit. Sound tips. Wrong person delivering them. Once the pot has finished establishing the kettle is black she should quickly turn the lights off.