Everywhere we look in the news today there are stories about schools struggling to function in the face of budget cuts.
You might think, ‘Nothing new there. Everyone is in the same boat.’ However, this situation is having an incredibly damaging impact on the quality of particularly secondary education for our children. This will potentially have a wide-ranging effect on every aspect of the life of the nation for years into the future, as these children become working adults.
Massive budget cuts
Recent reports from School Cuts, the education unions alliance, reveal that schools in England have suffered losses of more than 15,000 teachers and teaching assistants alone in the past two years, due to increasing financial restrictions amounting to over £2.8 billion in funding cuts. This in turn leads to larger classes and pupils getting less individual attention. The Department of Education expects a 530,000 increase in secondary pupil numbers over the years to 2025, which will place further strain on the already-stretched systems.
Not only numbers of teaching staff are affected by these constraints. The quality and renewal of vital equipment and teaching apparatus is also under threat. Constant and not always gentle use of these items results in increasingly poor performance, more frequent break-downs and eventual complete failure. Few schools now have the budget in place for routine maintenance of such equipment, never mind funds for regular renewal and replacement. Even the fabric of the school buildings themselves and other ancillary items such as school vehicles are suffering in this ever-increasing downward financial spiral.
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ICT is suffering
One of the most vulnerable areas of the school equipment resources is in ICT. Computer and digital technology has become a fundamental part of the school curriculum over the past few years and is now firmly embedded as a vital part of the learning experience.
Good though this is, the rapid, almost daily, advances in and development of ICT means that poorly-funded schools will soon be left behind in the quest to offer their pupils the latest technology to work with. This article from an anonymous teacher in a leading newspaper highlights the daily difficulties teachers have to deal with in terms of poor ICT support and failing equipment.
As the entire world becomes more and more reliant on ICT solutions in every branch of life, it is obvious that our schoolchildren must have access to the best equipment possible if they are to eventually emerge from their education industry-ready.
A light in the darkness
How can schools even begin to work effectively if they constantly have their budgetary hands tied? While there may not be a great deal that can be done about teacher attrition in the short term, it may be possible to relieve the pressure on overstretched resources, even in the tight-purse environment prevailing in most schools today.
As the majority of educational establishments have little or no money in the pot for the renewal or replacement of equipment stocks, many are now turning to alternative methods of accessing these much-needed amenities. One of these alternatives is school leasing.
How leasing works
Instead of having to spend large amounts of money to buy needed equipment outright, educational establishments from primary schools right through to universities have the option to consider taking out leasing agreements instead.
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These arrangements work similarly to the way that a business can lease or rent its company car fleet, where the agreement runs for a set number of years at a set cost. At the end of the term, the vehicles are handed back to the car provider and, usually, the process begins again with new vehicles and a new agreement.
The immediately obvious advantage to schools of this is that they don’t have to pay the cost of equipment all at once, but can budget over the term of the lease and apportion funds accordingly. This in turn leaves more money in the funds pot for other needs to be covered. In this way, items can be regularly replaced with new and up-to-date versions and nothing will be older than the age of the lease – often 3 years or less for ITC. This can be a really cost-effective method of renewing resources on a regular basis.
Not only technology can be obtained through leasing agreements. Many other areas such as school minibuses, gym equipment, catering equipment and even temporary classrooms can be funded this way.
The Education Act of 2011 expressly prohibits many schools from entering into agreements to borrow money or enter into financial leases independently, so they need to look at the option of operating leases. These arrangements usually cover items which will have some value left at the end of the period. These are facilitated by operating lease providers, companies which specialise in this type of funding.
Questions to ask a school leasing provider
What experience do you have?
Not all lease facilitators are created equal, of course. Before choosing one company over another, schools should look carefully at the work undertaken by them in the past, making sure that the company is completely legislation-compliant and has a proven track record of transparency, expertise and honest, straightforward dealings with their clients.
Do you understand our needs?
Ideally, choose between companies which are specifically experienced in dealing with schools and their requirements.
How much support will we get?
Companies which seek and maintain long and supportive relationships with their clients are the ones to look for. Their responsibility shouldn’t end with the signing of the contract, but should continue on right throughout the life of the lease, ensuring that new school staff understand the agreement and that the school is getting the maximum benefits possible.
What happens during the lease and at its end?
At any given moment in the lease period, schools should be able to see quickly and easily what’s happening and where they are in the process. The lease provider should give clear details at the beginning regarding what will happen at the end of the lease – how the old equipment is to be removed, the data-cleansing process if needed and how the items will be recycled. You should be confident that they are fully compliant with all the relevant legislation regarding these matters.
Who to talk to?
If you think that leasing may be the way to go to achieve a brighter future for your school and you’d like some more information on how to conquer your budgetary challenges this way, please contact us to learn how we can help you to achieve your goals.