Red hot tips for a spend-wise summer
As pupils, teachers and some support staff break up at the end of the summer term, people could be forgiven for imagining that a school goes into ‘shut-down’ with little or no activity. It has long been the case that schools would use this time for building repairs and maintenance, but in more recent years the level of activity seems to have grown, and it continues to keep on growing.
Schools are fast-paced environments, facing rapid change and an ever-increasing pressure to do more with less. Improving performance with fewer available resources is a theme running through many of our previous blog posts. It is a key driver, encouraging schools to build a value for money culture which focuses on the efficient use of resources and the impact on pupil outcomes.
It is now much more common to see a hustle and bustle of contractors, school staff and other stakeholders in school for a variety of reasons. Building and sites related activity is the most obvious, with hire of facilities to generate income, summer schools and transition workshops close behind.
So, with so much to fit in, how can leaders ensure the summer holiday period is managed wisely and effectively, to ensure the value for money culture you are working so hard to develop extends beyond term time working?
Spend time planning ahead early in the summer term. The summer term is always a busy one. The temptation is to concentrate on the here and now: pupils in the classroom, enrichment activities, reports for governing body meetings, staff appraisal, school development planning for the new academic year; the list goes on and on. Planning for the summer holiday break should sit high on your agenda.
It is usual for fewer staff to be on site during the summer break, which typically means fewer leaders and managers. You will need to consider three key areas during your planning, to ensure all bases are covered and your teams are well-prepared. These are:
- Buildings and Sites
- Leadership and Management
Buildings and Sites:
It is possible you will have several different contractors on your school site for a variety of different reasons.
Repair jobs and maintenance work that is better suited to a period where disruption is more acceptable may be put off until the summer holiday period, or proactively planned to take place then.
Projects for building improvement that would significantly disrupt learning during term time, and make areas of the school temporarily unavailable, may be scheduled for this time.
Significant refresh of IT hardware, software and systems which would cause disruption to learning, and/or the day to day running of the school, is likely to be undertaken at this time.
Deep cleaning, decorating and general tidying, both internal and external, are also likely activities to ensure the school environment is presented at its best, ready for the new academic year.
As well as contractors and school staff there is every possibility that you may have other stakeholders on your school site over the summer break.
Perhaps pupils are attending transition workshops, summer schools or holiday programmes. You may even be open to pupils who do not attend your school for such programmes. If your school is a secondary, or has a sixth form, there will be a day for pupils and students to collect exam results in August.
Parents could be involved in any of these activities or, if you do not outsource to an external supplier, may come to school for the more mundane task of purchasing uniform for the new academic year.
Members of the local community may attend your school site to hire facilities, perhaps as part of a community sport and leisure programme. This could be a key income generation strategy for your school and a valuable time of year to maximise that income generation.
The local community, particularly residents in close proximity to the school, may be affected by any significant building works resulting in heavy vehicle traffic, untidiness around school entrances and even noise disruption.
So, what can you do to maintain positive relationships, ensure procedures are properly followed and ensure your value for money culture continues over the summer break? This is where leadership and management comes into play.
Leadership and Management:
What you can do:
- Remember spending and value for money doesn’t just refer to the physical handing over of money for goods and services. Staff salaries are the biggest proportion of a school’s spending so how staff spend their time, to have maximum positive impact on pupil outcomes and the school’s priorities for improvement, is critical. Deploy staff wisely to ensure appropriate capacity, level of skill and appropriate training.
- Plan in advance, during term time, as much as possible. You will have a wider range of staff expertise on hand, which will help you to ensure that time isn’t wasted during the holiday period by staff who don’t have the skills.
- Allocate staff teams to known activities and make sure there is sufficient capacity available. If you allocate too much resource, the activity is not financially efficient. Too little resource may result in a poor perception of the school by its stakeholders.
One example is too few staff selling uniforms, which can be particularly difficult to manage if lots of parents arrive at once. How will you manage this without wasting staff time during quiet periods?
For holiday programmes and summer schools, ensure you know what your maximum numbers will be. Get participant sign-up well in advance and communicate thoroughly with families in the lead up the event. Don’t just assume people will turn up. Do you have enough staff to cover if everyone attends? How will you deploy staff differently if significant numbers of participants do not attend?
- Hold staff to account. Just because it is a holiday period does not mean accountability is not important. Prepare early and get staff who will be working during the holidays involved in that planning, so that they can see the importance of their role and understand what is expected of them. Ensure you have the right mix of staff on site, including those who will lead and manage teams.
Make sure your team leaders know who they can contact, in a more senior position if necessary, and how they go about doing that. Do they understand the difference between the types of issues that need to be reported immediately, particularly in relation to health and safety or safeguarding, and other issues which may be able to wait until the full staff body returns?
- For programmes such as summer school and holiday programmes that run regularly, review and evaluate their effectiveness. A quick but effective way to do this is to identify ‘What Went Well’ (WWW) and ‘Even Better If’ (EBI). Learning from previous experience will ensure the event or activity is more streamlined and runs more efficiently in future years.
- If you will be using contractors for the first time during the summer holiday period, make sure all health and safety and safeguarding checks are done in advance during term time, e.g. DBS and induction to school procedure.
You will need to ensure they are aware of your school policies for contractors such as:
- appropriate dress
- no smoking
- no use of mobile phones on site
- wearing ID badges and hi-vis jackets
and anything specific to holiday working such as:
- available entrances and exits
- opening hours
- Health and safety and safeguarding should be of paramount importance in your planning for the summer holiday period. Remember to review your procedures to ensure they are still workable during holiday times. Who is the person on site, daily, to whom any issues should be reported? Do they then know who to contact in an emergency and the procedures that they should follow?
This is such an important area that if you don’t feel that you have it adequately covered, you should spend time training appropriate staff, during term time, before the holiday period begins. If this is a significant issue for your school, there may a need for external training for appropriate staff.
- Be aware of any potential network down-time. This can be required during a summer holiday period for all sorts of reasons including an IT equipment refresh or upgrading of systems and software. Establish what needs to happen and when. Try to arrange any down-time when it will have the least impact on all types of summer holiday working.
Communicate plans and be prepared with a contingency plan in case things don’t go as expected. Are there any dates where network performance is critical i.e. around exam results time or to support particular events in school? Make sure staff involved on both sides (IT Management and events/projects) clearly communicate their needs and work together to manage the risks.
- Review your internal financial procedures to ensure they are still workable during holiday periods, particularly the summer break when key staff may not be present in school for up to six weeks. Are there appropriate plans in place for authorising spend? This could relate to the authorisation and administration of purchase orders, petty cash, cheques (including signatories) and electronic payment runs, if appropriate.
Negotiate the cost of works before the holiday period begins and have procedures in place to deal with any proposed changes to the agreements made.
Ensure staff are made aware if anything changes from your usual procedure and importantly, also re-iterate procedures even if they have not changed. Staff may assume they can work differently during holiday times when in reality, it is just as important that you have sound financial controls in place.
- Communication is a thread that runs through all the tips we have given you so far, but it is such an important factor to the smooth delivery of holiday working and your value for money culture, that it needs to be repeated here.
Write to local residents as a courtesy if there will be any disruption to them from your holiday works programme. This could be included in a regular newsletter, community mailing or in a letter specifically about that issue.
Clearly communicate with staff, as much as possible, and help people to understand their role. Give people time to ask questions and contribute their thoughts and ideas, so that people feel involved. This will help to create the commitment you need.
Provide opportunities for training, if you think people need it, and if they think they do. Staff need to feel confident in their own abilities, particularly if they will not have as much supervision as they are used to.
At each stage of the process, thank people for their input and contribution to making the holiday period a success. This will help to maintain positive relationships and get buy-in for the next holiday period.
With adequate planning and constant communication your summer holiday period can be a great success and move your school operations forward considerably, without putting your financial efficiency and effectiveness at risk.