5 ways FE can work smarter with its money

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The lack of funding available to UK education system has put immense pressure on teachers, finance staff, and most importantly, the students.

In the July/August 18 edition of AT magazine, we explored the “crisis in the classroom” looking at the serious funding problem facing schools across the UK.

School business leader Rachel Younger recalls when their budgets were first under extreme pressure. “I was sat in my office late one evening trying to draft the budget and just burst into tears. The amount of money we needed (but didn’t have) was just completely unachievable.”

Valentine Mulhoulland, Head of Policy at National Association of Head teachers (NAHT) says: “80% of our members say they have no idea how they will make their budgets balance by 2020.”

She warns that as more schools convert to academies, the auditing and financial reporting requirements will become more difficult. “For accountants, they are going to be auditing academies that are increasingly looking like they are not sustainable.”

If schools are struggling, further education is suffering more – with FE colleges having to fight for every penny.

So how can FE colleges stay afloat?

We asked Louise Jones, an accountant and deputy principal of Birmingham Metropolitan College.

1. FE colleges must recognise staff – however they can

Whichever college you speak to, you’ll find that between 65% and 70% of costs are spent on staff. We’re asking our staff to perform even better, but it’s difficult to recognise that through financial remuneration.

As a college, we got to the position this year where we felt that we just couldn’t ask our staff to do more without giving them some kind of pay rise. So we found the money to give them one. We ask a lot of our teaching staff without being able to recognise that to the extent that we’d like financially, which is common across the public sector. So we have to recognise them in other ways. We have a recognition scheme every Friday – we call it Friday Fanfare. Our culture is built around praise. We would do this anyway, but it matters all the more when your financial options are limited.

2. Digital tools will offer support

We have to make sure that every penny we spend that isn’t on teaching staff is spent wisely. We’re constantly looking at being more efficient, doing things better. There’s been quite a lot of work done on this in terms of digital learning. Students are able to access education without necessarily having to have a teacher in front of them. What we’re working on, and I know other colleges are, is a blended model where some of it is online and some of it is in the classroom. Trying to deliver across multiple sites through a broadcast lecture, for example. Which you can do, but the key question then is how you allow students to interact with the lecture.

3. Colleges must share ideas

We compare our cost models to other colleges to see, if another college is being particularly efficient, how we can learn lessons from them. It’s certainly something that you can never sit back and say: “I’ve done all that I need to.” It’s constantly scraping the bottom of the barrel to see what else we can do more efficiently.

4. They must invest in apprenticeships

While nationally, we’ve seen a drop in apprenticeships, we as a college have increased our number of apprentices. We did a lot of work with employers prior to the introduction of the apprenticeship levy, and I think that has certainly helped us.

Apprenticeship is certainly something that we strongly recommend to our students, because it gets them into the skills market much quicker; you can now get degree level qualifications through the apprenticeship route. We are trying to change the perception that as an 18-year-old, the only route is HE.

5. FE needs a big strategy

We need to make sure that funding bodies and combined authorities, where the budgets will be devolved to within the next 12 months, are spending money in a way that reflects what we as a country need in terms of an industrial strategy. Big strategic thinking that needs to go on to make sure we’re giving funds to those organisations that can demonstrate that students have a much better opportunity when they leave a college or an education establishment; that they’ve got the opportunity to then earn money and contribute to the economy.

AAT members can read the full article in our forth coming Sep/Oct issue of AT.

Mark Rowland is a journalist and former editor of Accounting Technician and 20 magazine.

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