balls come naturally to me, thought-showers, blue-sky-thinking and yes, collaborative leadership.
Micro-credentialing, wearable technology, augmented reality, learning spaces, student-driven personalized learning – these are all words I try to squeeze into every conversation. I still love, however, the old, authoritarian style of, ‘total quality management systems’, ‘total customer satisfaction’, ‘once more unto the breach’, and ‘beam me up, Scotty’. I could, and do, go on! One of my favourite mantras, however, for it is grounded in good, old-fashioned common sense is ‘Just in Time’. No, that has nothing to do with that last minute race across Heathrow Airport Terminal 2 (that’s another story), but rather a fresh approach to procurement that I learned when I had the chance to work in commercial industry.
Lean manufacturing is another term you are likely to have heard, and it’s a method of eliminating waste from a manufacturing system. The things you can ‘waste’ include time, effort, money, stock, rhubarb and custard. Lean practitioners may spend their time mapping out the quickest route from crane to lathe, from stores to dispatch, from north to south, ear to ear, or cradle to grave. ‘Lean’ is also an approach which demands that businesses hold as little stock as possible but, of course, schools rarely engage with such discipline. Walk into any school art room in the country and you will be overwhelmed by stock, a good deal of which will inevitably be damaged over the course of the year, dog-eared or torn, trodden on, sat upon, eaten, stolen or, indeed, simply thrown out at the end of the summer term. Stationery cupboards hold exercise books galore. Schools are simply awash with stock and it costs money!
One of the arts of good leadership is the careful and prudent management of resources, especially cash. As my granny said, “You can only spend money once.” So we had better spent it wisely. What, then, is ‘Just in time’? It is a system where you hold as little stock in a school as possible, a cultural change. Staff will become used to have a tiny quantity of stock around in their store cupboards and classrooms, but with the guarantee that if they require anything, they can get it 24 hours later. It just requires a change in mindset, planning, and trust. We in schools have become used to ordering equipment or stock termly, or sometimes annually, but try to imagine that all the items on your shelves, in your cupboards and drawers, are, instead, piles of pound coins. If you reduce the pound coins on the shelves, then you increase the pound coins in the bank!
I was very lucky to be trained by a couple of exceptional School Bursars. As I walked into their offices, I would see them shaking their heads. The answer “no’, came before the question was even asked! You had to fight your corner and justify any expenditure. Just in time suited them so well. ‘I get the fees in three termly dollops, why should you buy all your resources in September?’ It was just a different point of view, a Bursar’s point of view!
But my, how a Bursar’s job has changed. Their responsibilities have broadened, adapted and exploded into many areas of compliance. They are now HR Managers, Financial Controllers, Company Secretaries, Directors, Estates Managers, Heads of Health & Safety etc etc. Indeed, Bursar’s alone have become endangered species!
I have always thought that school procurement could and should be more effective. When buying either a service or school equipment as an individual school, it is difficult to surmount the barrier of scale. Independent Schools, unless they are very big, simply cannot buy enough to access large discounts. I have, however, been reading about the work of the Buying Support Agency. Their aim is to be a one-stop shop for advice and the delivery of the most cost effective solution for the procurement of anything, including energy, stationery, photocopiers, phones, IT equipment, white goods, insurance, medical supplies, furniture, Uncle Tom Cobbly and all! Their team arrives at a school and undertakes a complete review of all areas of spending and then Matt Roper advises of the possible ways in which saving can effectively be made.
So, with some help, we can begin to envision a world in which we can make school procurement easier, cheaper and quicker. Those pound coins can begin to find their way back to our bank accounts and the poor old bursar will have time to stop for an occasional cup of coffee!
The Buying Support Agency has been operating since 2002. Their presence has been little known in independent school circles because they have mostly worked with academies up until now. They also advise on eco-friendly supplies, these days demanded by every school council. If you want to find out more about the work of the Buying Support Agency, simply click on the button below.