Warneford Consulting

A niche within a niche; how to thrive as a small estate management consultancy within the academy school sector

Tim Warneford, Managing Director of Warneford Consulting, has over the last two years, produced a series of 20 podcasts called ’Developing the Trust’, in which he interviews a broad range of academy experts to identify and share best practice across the academy sector.

Here, Director of Estates, at the Harbour Learning Trust, Nicki Taylor, turns the table on Tim to find out how the service he offers is different to his competitors and what motivates him to develop and enhance the services he offers to his academy clients.

What brought you in to the world of academy school funding?

I’ve always been employed in built environment roles since I graduated from Salford with a Building Surveying degree in 2010. Early in my career, I was involved in securing funding for public building and social housing refurbishment schemes, and later moved onto securing ECO funding for private domestic retrofit schemes. When ECO funding dried up in 2012 a transition to the academy sector seemed like a natural progression.

My mother-in law was one of the very first executive heads, providing me with a sounding board to test the type of services academies were likely to need and to explore how I could best support the sector with the funding and asset management expertise I had gained. I was intrigued about the academisation of schools and the new risks and opportunities that academy schools faced post conversion.

It became clear to me that there was a dearth of quality advice in the marketplace relating to good asset management and almost none to help academies undertake robust due diligence when absorbing additional schools into their family. I saw that I could provide a service in this space over and above securing funding and haven’t looked back since.

What experience or skills did you transfer from your previous occupation?

The obvious skills are securing funding, asset management and planning and delivering work programmes, however, I’m also very interested in the causal links between the quality of the built environment and its’ impact on the outcomes and quality of life of building user, be they tenants or students.

“When working with academies, I think it’s important to remember the beneficiaries of the projects we are funding and what it will mean for them now and in years to come.”

My BA in Humanities compliments my BSc in Building Surveying in that I can perceive how improving a school’s built environment contributes to staff retention and pupil attainment.

As a building surveyor delivering ‘decent homes’ social housing improvements, I worked closely with residents to ensure that they received a fantastic service and could exercise some choice in the fixtures and fittings installed in their home as part of the refurbishments. I saw first-hand the impact that those improvements had on their outlook, mental and physical health and overall well-being.

When working with academies, I think it’s important to remember the beneficiaries of the projects we are funding and what it will mean for them now and in years to come.

What is different about Warneford Consulting?

There are the first-tier consultants, those whom the DfE commission to survey the entire school estate, some 22,000 schools as well as those who operate in multiple sectors such as the NHS, MOD and blue light and for who education is just another revenue stream.

I make a virtue of the diminutive size of my consultancy. I invest the time in building rapport and trust with my clients, so I understand their exact needs.”

What makes us different, is that we are sector specialists with undiluted focus on the academy sector. We are interested in growing our business vertically, in line with academy sector evolving needs and maturity. An example of this is our newly launched Asset Management service which has been designed and built specifically for academy trusts, with its’ development and testing overseen and endorsed by critical friends who are experts in the fields of trust estate, asset and cost management.

I make a virtue of the diminutive size of my consultancy. I invest the time in building rapport and trust with my clients, so I understand their exact needs. For example, every year, I cap the number of annual Condition Improvement Fund (CIF) submissions I am prepared to undertake, so that I can maintain the quality of the bids I support. For me, It’s all about ensuring that the application is as robust as possible and not about playing the volume game.

Acknowledging the multitude of estate funding challenges, where do you see our sector heading in the next few years?

Firstly, given the current government’s ambitious targets for achieving decarbonisation by 2030 and the incredible spike in energy costs, greater sophistication in how we evaluate, fund and deliver condition improvement projects is needed in the sector.

The ESFA can promote carbon neutrality by applying greater weighting to their CIF evaluation of life cycle costs, energy efficiency, fuel savings and carbon reduction in addition to revising the outdated output specification. There needs to be acceptance that retrofitting ECO measures in an ageing school stock can’t be achieved without both considerable cost and disruption to school operations.

“Academies need more flexibility, choice and access to both public and private funding if they are to continue to maintain quality school environments.”

Secondly, I believe that schools have transferred to academies with more risk and less freedom to leverage investment from the private market than they may have first thought. Academies need more flexibility, choice and access to both public and private funding if they are to continue to maintain quality school environments.

Continuing lack of clarity around what constitutes an ESFA compliant operating lease or acceptable funding vehicle, currently undermines auditors and trustees’ confidence in private financial investment. This is unfortunate, as appropriately designed private investment could address the gap in public funding, which is desperately needed to address school dilapidation and energy inefficiency. Clear guidance from the ESFA would encourage the market to bring a wider range of funding products to market, whist giving academies more choice in how to fund priority investments.

Lastly, Trusts must ensure that their investment in assets prioritises building safety and compliance, targets poor condition, improves energy efficiency, and addresses any health and safety issues. It is therefore imperative to understand how space is utilised, the condition of key components, and how each school compares to the trust portfolio. In our experience, school condition data is often held in different formats and stored in different places making it impossible to analyse. Adding to the complexity of the task, there is no standard formula with which to prioritise and evaluate priorities across a trusts’ estate.

Tell us more about the Immortalis Solutions’ bespoke, academy assets management software?

We’ve teamed up with Immortalis Solutions, to develop a bespoke academy asset management software package which allows central capture and visualisation of asset data across the trust estate and provides an automated algorithm for the prioritisation of works based on estate management best practice. This system, complimented by our tailored consultancy, will assist our clients to make strategic estate management investment decisions supported by a clear rationale to support governance.

There are enormous school estate challenges ahead of us. The ESFA themselves calculate that despite an annual investment of over £2billion in capital works we still need £13 billion to make it fit for purpose.

Much of our stock is old, solid wall and poorly insulated. In my opinion, both rounds of the Condition Data Collection programme, were flawed, as they only provide a high level and thus superficial snapshot of the condition of our school building condition. It’s difficult not to consider that the £13 billion is a significant underestimate of the true state of the estate.

Had the investment been made to undertake a more comprehensive survey, we would have far better costed data from which the DfE could have drawn upon to support their spending review submissions. You simply cannot quantify or plan accurately without contemporary data.

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01525 632084

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Warneford Consulting

A niche within a niche; how to thrive as a small estate management consultancy within the academy school sector

Tim Warneford, Managing Director of Warneford Consulting, has over the last two years, produced a series of 20 podcasts called ’Developing the Trust’, in which he interviews a broad range of academy experts to identify and share best practice across the academy sector.