Resource management in tough times

Written by: Liam Donnison | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Schools are having to get serious about how they manage their resources. Liam Donnison talks to the leader of a large cross-phase multi-academy trust about their approach to this crucial area

Dr Nick Capstick is CEO of the White Horse Federation, a multi-academy trust formed in 2012 and made up of 32 primary, secondary and special schools in Wiltshire, Gloucester, Oxfordshire and Berkshire.

The fact that the trust is cross-phase is deliberate, says Dr Capstick. “Each school brings something to the other,” he explained. “We have real subject specialists at secondary, and at primary and special we have people who are very adept at breaking down barriers to learning. We thought how powerful it would be for teachers from all backgrounds talking to and working with each other.”

Running such a large group of schools creates challenges as well as opportunities, particularly when it comes to the management of resources.

Dr Capstick outlined some key elements of the White Horse Federation approach to this important area.

Create a heatmap

Effective deployment of resources across the trust requires a clear picture of where those resources are needed. At White Horse Federation the allocation of school improvement support is identified through a “heatmap” – a spreadsheet created in each of the federation’s five regional hubs that RAG-rates 18 different areas, ranging from leadership performance to boys’ maths attainment, against national norms.

“Our tolerance level is five per cent greater than national,” explained Dr Capstick. “That allows us to say that in this particular element this school is outstanding.”

The heatmap allows the federation to tailor support for a school in a particular area of weakness: “If we stack all our schools together, we can see where schools are excelling or struggling in which of those 18 criteria – then we can get an outstanding practitioner excelling in a particular area to work with another who isn’t.

“We don’t simply align one school to another – this approach means that we can create bespoke intervention for the vulnerable school. It’s a remarkably cheap approach and it also builds up networks and relationships.”

Build leader networks

This school improvement resource is supplemented with a number of system leader networks in areas such as Pupil Premium, maths, English and SEN.

“It’s a powerful form of improvement,” continued Dr Capstick. “We can put on formal CPD events but the number of unofficial communications that take place in this area is enormous. It reduces resource needs by creating a synergy and network of people working together.”

Business expertise at the centre

“Our heads no longer have their own school business managers because this expertise sits regionally,” Dr Capstick explained. “It gives us economies of scale and means that our heads no longer have to manage the nitty-gritty of a major project such as a building or a new roof – they act as commissioners and the estates and financial teams get on with the rest.”

Schools submit their resource needs to the federation’s resourcing teams three times a year. Each request is analysed to see if savings can be made through central purchasing. It’s an approach that works well with major resource expenditure such as IT and photocopying and means that savings can be put into school improvement.

“Last year we were able to save £400,000 on photocopying contracts and £180,000 on paper and we now have over half a million pounds to put into school improvement,” Dr Capstick added.

The federation also has its own finance, HR and legal expertise. This in-house approach has advantages over outsourcing, said Dr Capstick.

“Each one of these experts absolutely understands their role in school improvement. They know that if they do their job properly the headteachers don’t need to worry about finance and HR and can focus on teaching and learning. They are supporting school improvement which means that they are school improvers too.”

Serious about income generation

White Horse Federation generates income in a number of ways. Over the last year the federation earned £564,000 through school improvement agreements. As well as bringing in precious funds this consultancy work also allows the federation to help a school rapidly improve before it joins the federation. Income generation is led by the trust’s business development director.

“One of the business development director’s performance indicators is that she earns six times her salary,” said Dr Capstick. “One school that has recently joined has just 60 per cent of the children it needs at the moment. It means that they have an underused sixth form block and space in the main school building, so we’ve moved the sixth form provision into the main school building and leased the block to another school. It’s generating up to £100,000 a year.”

White Horse Federation’s school improvement work is headed up by the regional directors who are responsible for developing a team of system leaders able to support schools: “It generates income for us, but it also creates opportunity within the trust and it allows our schools to keep very good practitioners in the classroom.”

Sense check the use of resources

The federation has a range of ways to determine if resources are being used efficiently. Dr Capstick works closely with the trust’s CPD and HR directors to check key indicators such as staff sickness, recruitment and parental complaints on a quarterly basis.

The recruitment check looks at the volume of applicants for schools and across the hubs. If volumes are low in certain schools or hubs the trust leadership team will ask the marketing team to increase the trust’s profile in the local and education press.

Key school performance details are captured through “school on a plate” reports – concise documents containing easily digestible information on academic performance and progress, metrics on pupil and staff attendance and financial performance.

“These reports give governors the information they need to challenge or celebrate their heads and they help people like me to see where the school is in a moment and also see where the movement is in key areas such as staff attendance,” Dr Capstick said.

“They are great conversation pieces for leaders and governors and they give our regional directors a way to easily compare schools within the hubs to see where they need to direct additional resource.”

  • Liam Donnison is director of Best Practice Network. Dr Capstick’s insights form part of the new National Professional Qualifications for Executive Leadership (NPQEL) – part of the suite of NPQs developed and delivered by Outstanding Leaders Partnership in partnership with Best Practice Network. Visit and


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