Turning resources into revenue

Education budgets in the UK are coming under intense strain. A recent report by the National Audit Office said that schools face cuts of 8% in real terms by 2019-20. Many schools are looking for new ways to relieve budgetary pressure by capitalising on additional revenue streams.

A tried and tested way of generating fresh income is to hire out your school’s facilities for use by the local community such as dance and sports organisations, social clubs, holiday camp providers and charities. At Kajima Community, we’ve found that schools which do hire out their facilities are generating average annual revenues of £40,000 plus– rising to as much as £420,000 in some cases. This money can be reinvested in new equipment, used to carry out maintenance, offset existing budget deficits or invest in staffing.

Schools are often not aware of the usefulness of the resources they own. Some are obvious: football pitches, badminton and basketball courts, and swimming pools, for example. Less obvious facilities include carparks, classrooms and main halls – with every asset owned, from overhead projectors and interactive whiteboards to Wi-Fi, adding to their value.

Schools who already hire out their facilities can maximise revenue and increase margins by implementing a simple online booking system. Kajima Community’s online lettings software, BookingsPlus, provides a web-based, total administration system, including a room booking tool, white-labelled website, automated invoicing, online payments system and automated communications. Users can choose to use the system as a stand-alone platform, or incorporate the marketing services offered by Kajima Community to help boost bookings.

Jake Greenwood, School Business manager at large, Birmingham based secondary school, Four Dwellings Academy which has been using the system for 18 months said, “BookingsPlus is simple, effective and easy to use, and has streamlined our end to end bookings process. We estimate that adopting the system has released an average of ten valuable staff hours every week, which we have been able to reinvest in education administration to the benefit of our pupils.

“The dashboard management tool, automated customer communication and simple, one-click cancellation booking systems have made the booking process much easier for our clients, and provides us with a clear and accurate overview of all bookings and room availability at any given time. Not only has this enabled us to increase our lettings, but is vital from a safeguarding point of view. The system also provides greater transparency with regards to record keeping, making it easy for clients’ to agree to our terms and conditions, and enabling us to store vital information about their insurance policies.

Despite the significant benefits that can be gained from hiring out facilities for external use, some schools have been dissuaded by the perceived costs of opening their premises to the community – but these are often overestimated. For example, Kajima Community’s software operates a six-month money back guarantee and does not tie schools into a binding contract, meaning that schools have no fixed financial obligations if they can no longer afford the system. Managing clients’ expectations of what they are permitted to use also means that costs are likely to be lower than many schools might presume. The main expenses to schools are the fixed costs which have already been paid; additional heating and lighting charges, for example, are likely to be minimal.

Marketing is critical to the success of hiring out our school facilities: making communities aware that their facilities are available for use. A strong web presence needs to be maintained, with expertise to precisely target the online searches of commercial organisations and voluntary groups. A reliable online system, such as BookingsPlus can help manage bookings by providing, for example, a dedicated email for out-of-hours enquiries. Schools can also help themselves by working closely with community partners, such as local authorities and councils, other education and training partners, not-for-profits and local businesses.

Another perceived challenge is an increased administrative burden, which can be considerable if schools try to coordinate several of their administrative functions such as the business manager, finance director and admin staff, to hire out their facilities. This can easily be mitigated, however, by using a simple end-to-end management tool that incorporates automatic invoicing and account balances.

The legal considerations needn’t be overwhelming either. It is true that more bookings can bring more potential risk. The key is to have a rigorous risk management strategy in place and to thoroughly understand and review it. Schools must ensure they have the right documentation, such as up-to-date insurance coverage, coaching qualifications and references. With the right processes in place this is easy to manage. BookingsPlus provides a simple transparent management dashboard which logs important documentation such as insurance cover, and sends email notifications when these are due to expire.

What’s clear is that these challenges are small compared to the potential rewards. If just 10 per cent of the UK’s 24,317 schools opened their facilities for community use, it could virtually wipe out the £103m schools deficit. Much more than this, it would provide a valuable service to surrounding communities, from sports and social clubs to charities and local businesses.