We picked the brain of Tim Warneford, Associate Director at Make Consulting, to discuss if not the elephant in the room, then the room itself.
Buildings are by far the largest asset that schools control, and they play an unparalleled role in determining the teaching environment.
As Tim puts it, “if pupils and staff are subjected to environments where rain, wind, heat and light can affect their ability to concentrate, they are unlikely to perform as well as those children taught in classrooms where there are markedly better facilities.”
He also highlights the competition that schools now face in attracting pupils; if schools wish to maintain or indeed grow their revenues they must be aware that when parents are deciding which school to send their child, they may start with the Ofsted performance, “but they will be heavily influenced by the condition of the school’s building and its facilities.”
After a period of sustained cuts to Local Education Authorities’ budgets, they became less capable of providing essential services such as maintenance and capital projects. Indeed, with the advent of the academisation programme and with each successive conversion, the ability of LA’s to cross-subsidise schools was undermined.
Once the transfer is complete, the new academies “may not even be fully aware of their statutory duties let alone how to reduce costly reactive spending in favour of better value, planned maintenance programmes.” As Tim points out, even, or indeed especially, in times of education funding cuts and the difficulties of balancing budgets, schools need to be far better appraised of future liabilities across their built estate in order to prepare planned spending budgets and build up reserves: “the tendency to defer works is only storing up bigger and more costly problems for future years.”
But how can schools go about this? The answer is data, and knowing what to do with it.
As Tim says, “the premise of good estate management is accurate and contemporary data, followed by evidence based analysis of that data. From the analysis it is possible to put in to place programmes to ensure budgets and investment are made at the right time and in the right places. Without a condition survey there is no data from which to analyse the information and without analysis, there are no means of quantifying the liabilities and without quantifying the liabilities it is not possible to accurately prepare strategies for meeting the needs in an efficient way that meets best value procurement.” This is done by commissioning specialist building consultants to capture said data and then analyse it, reducing costs in the long run.
Tim highlights the pilot project Make Consulting have run with the Collegiate Academy Trust, where they collaborated in designing and refining the product and service, using client insight coupled with years of asset management experience in a way that makes this essential discipline affordable to all academy schools. As Tim says, “holding accurate data and analysing it in a way that meets individual school needs should not be a luxury, it is essential and if we can make it affordable then more schools will see short, medium and long term benefits.”
There is another advantage too. While there is increasing pressure on MATs to increase in size, achieve higher revenue via pupil numbers and seek to maximise opportunities through economies of scale, they must also take in to consideration the extent of risks and liabilities they are potentially transferring and the potential impact on the Trust’s existing estate. “By using our model,” Tim says, “the data collected can be used as part of the technical due diligence service and so the trust can be better appraised of the built asset liabilities of an incoming school. Once the school has joined the trust, this data can automatically be included in the trust’s estate-wide database.”
David Irish, Principal and Deputy CEO of the Shireland Collegiate Academy Trust, attests to the need for better asset management by academies and agrees that “to be involved in the bottom-up designing and refinement of a model that we could help shape to meet our own individual needs was [an opportunity] that we were only too happy to grasp. We feel we have been on a most rewarding journey and look forward to continuing working with Tim and the Make team.’’
All this provides the Trust and its representatives a strong hand when negotiating with LAs, Regional School Commissioners and even the DfE itself, vital in these days of continued financial pressures. Ultimately, if a school builds in a dedicated, data-driven strategy to its estate, it stands a much better chance of success and delivering better outcomes for its finances, teaching staff and most importantly, pupils.
Tim Warneford and David Irish will be speaking on How the Collegiate Academy Trust is Centrally Managing Their Built Assets in the School Buildings and Estates open Theatre at 12:10pm
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