The Department for Education is very aware of the importance of benchmarking and has been producing tools to help schools to do it over the last couple of years – and, importantly, these are continually evolving.
You’ll know about the self-assessment dashboard, as it was recently made part of the annual schools financial value standard for maintained schools and into a compulsory annual report for academies. You can also use it as part of your regular benchmarking report – it doesn’t just have to be a once-a-year thing. Your regular benchmarking report is a concise report that’s easy to review and, since all schools are producing it, you can compare your school’s results with others very easily. And if you identify an area for further investigation while using the dashboard, you can find more information about it on the government’s benchmarking website.
But, as a governor, what can you do with all of this newly available information? You can raise more questions, and that’s a key part of your role when it comes to benchmarking.
You’re the school’s critical friend. Sometimes there’ll be a good reason why your school spends more in a certain area, and that’s fine, but it’s a good thing to question why its leadership costs, or energy costs, or supply teaching costs are higher than average.
The six most expensive words in education are ‘it’s always been done that way’ and, if the answer to any of your probing questions is that, there may be room for improvement. in these uncertain times, that could free up much-needed resources for elsewhere.
Staffing costs account for the largest percentage of a school’s overheads. Benchmarking costs across a range of schools with a similar profile should stimulate a valuable debate. However, it would be good practice to have a benchmarking focus each year, selecting a section of the staffing structure for benchmarking and to extend the range of information being considered. By working with schools that are the most similar to yours, you could ascertain the number of staff members included, the contracts they’re on – grades, hours and so on – and their qualifications. This would then inform your future plans for reviewing staffing at your school.
The same applies with other overhead benchmarking reports. By working with a group of identified schools, you’ll be able to explore more information, such as utility costs, unit costs, the types of systems being used, environmental impact and upgrades applied.
Schools don’t operate in a bubble. Sharing good practice across the sector supports the efficient application of resources. And effective benchmarking helps to apply the principle that best value can be more than simply the cost of a service.
Alison Elsmore, Academy Business Manager at Entrust