Greater autonomy and looming cuts could see education compromised, says new MCA report

The coalition government’s education reforms will speed up the pace of change in schools and universities, and create new risks as well as opportunities for individual institutions, according to the Management Consultancies Association (MCA). These changes come at the same time as the withdrawal of key infrastructure and institutional support and inevitable reductions in resources as finance is reduced.

The MCA today argues in a new report, 21st Century Education: Helping schools and universities to improve, that the planned new autonomy and responsibility for schools, in particular, means that education leaders will need expert help to take advantage of the new environment and to manage their resources efficiently. The report identifies complex implementation and change programmes, the need to streamline processes and cut costs and the imperative to get maximum value from IT investment as areas where advice and consulting has proved particularly valuable in recent years.

The Association warns, however, that education leaders risk ending up with poor guidance or inadequate support if they simply turn to the nearest available offer of help.

“Our advice is to look at the track record of what the best management consultancies have done,” says Alan Leaman, Chief Executive of the MCA. “And to quiz them hard on what they are ready to do in the future.”

Chris Davies, Director Education Market at Tribal, an MCA member firm, says:
“The political view is to empower the frontline and trust the experience and expertise of the leadership. This approach creates opportunities for different parts of the system to work together in new ways; but for it to succeed it will involve balancing a reduction of bureaucracy with more active risk management.”  

The MCA calculates that local education authorities, schools, colleges and universities spent £37m in 2009 on support from management consultancies. Based on its recent research in The Value of Consulting, the MCA estimates that this will have generated benefits for clients worth over £221m.

Benefits for education clients from MCA member companies that are identified in the report range from slashing a school cleaning bill by £40,000 per year to a project that saved a University £1m from its £6m annual IT budget.

Alan Leaman said:
“Many consultancies are experts on the management of change and the effectiveness of schools. They understand how institutions can work together, how to improve efficiency, and how to tap the resources and skills of the wider private sector. They also introduce best practice – essential when the task is as complex and important as educating our children and young people.”

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