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Outsource magazine: thought-leadership and outsourcing strategy | September 22, 2017

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Schools and the private sector: a marriage of mutual convenience

Schools and the private sector: a marriage of mutual convenience
Martyn Hart

Under the Coalition government, more academies will be opened than in the first eight years of the programme. More than 1,200 schools have now applied to become academies – publicly funded independent schools, free from local authority and national government red tape.

Not only are academies free to deliver the curriculum they see fit, they are now in full control of the purse strings… with great power comes great responsibility. Funding is falling, yet standards need to be raised. A difficult conundrum. How will academies get the most out of their allocated funding?

Companies such as Capita have already stepped into the breach. “Capita will deliver what we need to the benefit of both pupils and employees at the schools, while also meeting today’s budgetary challenges,” said Gerald Meehan, strategic director for children and enterprise, at Halton council.

“By providing a robust and resilient IT infrastructure for the schools, we can free up their resources to focus on the most important aspects – supporting, teaching and learning.”

I couldn’t agree with him more. Already around 900 schools have been declared ‘excellent’, and fast-tracked towards full academy status – there is a huge market opening up for outsourcing companies to rise to the challenge and make a positive difference.

Budget cuts means public sector investment is at its lowest for a generation; redeveloping existing school buildings, and erecting new ones, is not a priority. Yet local authorities are under pressure to create more pupil places. The private sector has money to invest, and is willing to speculate.

There are lots of vacant buildings out there that could be put to good purpose. Social enterprise academies, with private sector investment, could be a way to extend the education system’s capacity, without resorting to the dreaded class-size increases.

As competition opens up, and you get more choice in which school you send your child to, tracking pupils’ progress becomes ever more pertinent. Especially as funding levels might rely on how well a school is performing. ITO suppliers provide services that facilitate reliable, accurate data collection and reporting: making sure that your school gets the funds it deserves.

There are numerous other areas where private sector providers – who have the experience to get things right first time – can save money by eliminating the learning curve and being more efficient: catering, cleaning, information technology, security, the list goes on…

Outsourcing non-core activities allows a school to focus on its raison d’être. Teachers should not have to worry about procuring books and computers or getting the windows cleaned. They should be educating our children, and nothing more. Good teachers live long in the memory for how inspirational they were, not how well they collected in the dinner money! Teachers should spend their time teaching, lesson planning, marking work, and not worrying about admin.

Of course, the private sector has its usual pecuniary motive; a good outsourcing contract has got to be beneficial for both sides. If the private sector is to contribute an initial investment, providers are likely to insist on contracts of a sufficient length to allow them to make a profit long-term. If schools are funded at a fixed amount per pupil per year, and outsourcing companies increase their fees there may not be enough to pay the teaching staff.

Equally, if teachers’ unions strike, leading to pay levels being raised, academies on tight budgets may struggle to pay the outsourcers. It’s about striking a balance – all National Outsourcing Association advice is based on relationship forming; building flexible contracts that move with the times, where all stakeholders stand to win. In the first instance, everyone needs to appreciate that they are a stakeholder, with something huge to win – a bright future for our children.

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