“The principal object of management should be to secure the maximum prosperity for the employer, coupled with the maximum prosperity for each employee.”
Frederick Winslow Taylor
So the government is employing consultants costing £2.3 million pounds to help schools cut costs. The faux-outrage over this is understandable at first glance, the irony of spending money with the aim of saving money is not lost on some. However, I don’t think this is a ridiculous idea.
To get a measure of how much this actually costs schools, let’s take a common cost to schools, work out some potential waste costs and then extrapolate that wildly across all schools. Bear with me here, and this is only for secondaries, but you’ll get the point. All data is from the most recent DFE statistics.
Let’s look at photocopying.
- It’s far from outlandish to suggest on average, a student is provided with at least 1 A4 sheet of freshly printed material per lesson.
- The average secondary school has 948 students;
- Working on a waste of 1% per lesson (which I reckon is low, but is absolutely feasible – just think of the people who print 30 copies when they only need 28) that means that per period, about 9 sheets of A4 paper get wasted;
- A standard school week is between 25 and 30 periods – let’s go for 25, so that means 225 sheets of A4 paper get wasted per week: that IS low – but let’s keep on with the numbers;
- Accounting for double sided, colour print, colour paper, I think it’s safe to go with an average cost of about £0.04 a sheet, equating to £9.00 a week wasted.
- Approximate length of a school year is 40 weeks, so we’re looking about £360 in wasted photocopying a year, a significantly low estimate for those of us who are boring enough to know about the things.
- Now, there’s about 3500 secondary schools, by my calculations that means savings of £1.26 million. Adjusting for primaries, independents and special schools and you’re looking at £2.6 million.
This is just photocopying. Hell, get more staff to print two to a page at least. But this deflects from my point – the cost of these consultants is absolute peanuts. I’m more angry about Crossrail not being ready until next Autumn and I don’t even live in London*.
Speculate to accumulate
The word efficiency seems to instil a sense of dread in public service circles, but the fact is that, as the above example demonstrates, we can be our own worst enemy, and it takes external sources to make that clear.
Also, in any business or industry it is far from out of the question to invest costs in projects to change how operations function. Otherwise you’re relying on those who operate in the status quo, who can’t see the wood for the trees. This is not an advocacy for consultancy – far from it – but just as teachers have learned to bypass the educational gatekeepers and learn from each other (e.g. cognitive load, classroom management, resource sharing, etc), then maybe we can do the same and help each other to deal with costs too.
“But shouldn’t the government invest properly in education in order to solve the financial issues that schools face?”, I hear you all cry…
We can only hope. But then it’s the hope that kills you, as they say.
* – and why would I? It’s busy, loud, and smells.