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BigDug May 22
BigDug May 22

Millennial hangovers

March 18, 2022, 14:56 GMT+1
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  • Aging equipment needs careful financial planning to replace, says Anthony David
Millennial hangovers

From a financial point of view, the last few years could not have been more challenging. 

For many, the two lock-down periods hammered home the reliance schools were beginning to have on self-generated income simply to stay afloat. 

This has led to an argument suggesting that schools were inadvertently supporting the government’s position that grant-based investment was sufficient.

What has been initially a business strategy to create surplus had become essential and the hole it has left has exposed budgets.

However, this year things are different. While the Government has not come anywhere close to realising the projected investment to support our lockdown generation (the conservative investment was suggested by Sir Kevan Collins to be no less than £15 billion) it has kept to their manifesto agreement for investment. 

For a typical primary school that equates to around £75,000 and a typical secondary school closer to £250,000. These are significant amounts but not enough to spark an educational renaissance when salary increases, fuel increases and changes to national insurance are taken into account. 

Schools have begun to see a return to pre-pandemic self-generated income. All of this is important when considering your day-to-day duty in maintaining your school.

Using revenue grant

Your revenue grant is not the one to use for replacing roofs or refurbishing whole classrooms. That is a capital grant purchase and typically managed by either your local authority, diocese or MAT.

That said, there are a number of items that do fall into the revenue grant that help you to maintain your site. 

A classic example of this is redecoration costs. Typically, you will have a rolling maintenance programme of decoration across your site, which allows you to maintain rooms for as long as possible before they require more costly intervention.

However, the last couple of decades have seen other high cost items enter site maintenance grants - typically, kitchen equipment and interactive whiteboards.

Aging millennial investment

In the early 2000s, many schools received new kitchens in order to meet the goals of hot food cooked on site.

It was an extraordinarily ambitious project that gifted many small schools a much needed resource. Unfortunately, this equipment is now aging and beginning to fail.

For small schools particularly, this equipment is exponentially more expensive than larger sites and setting aside £2500 for a potential new fridge or freezer is a high cost. 

Equally, IT costs may well be looming. In the first decade of this century all schools invested in projector interactive whiteboards (IWBs) and the likelihood is that they will be beginning to fail.

Usually, it is either the bulb or lens that goes first. The temptation is to replace them, which is a cost in itself, and does little to change the projection power.

The only way to do that is to change from projector boards to large, touch sensitive screens. These IWBs offer LED sharp pictures with the same brightness (lumens) as your own flat-screen TV. 

Ironically, small schools will probably find it faster to replace these than larger primaries. 

Economies of scale only go so far - if you buy 14 boards in one year it is going to cost regardless of any deal you have negotiated. 

Depending on what your finance budget states, it is likely that costs over £10,000 are considered capital and therefore beyond the reach of your revenue budget. This complicates things but it is likely that many schools are facing the challenge of how to update equipment within budget.   

Unfortunately these things matter. When parents visit your site they will want to see a clear, well-kept building that clearly has the latest technology at its heart.

If kitchens are unable to operate these can send messages - children, much like armies, march on their stomachs.

All of these require planning and ideally a school will set aside a budget to build a surplus for these rainy day events. The challenge is that most schools have had to depend on these surpluses over the last two years to maintain operational functions. 

While this year will see a welcome boost, there remain some big costs that will come out of this increase to significantly impact the fictional increase that is being suggested by politicians. 

Anthony David is executive headteacher of St Paul’s CE Primary School and Monken Hadley CE Primary School