Innovation can come in a number of ways. There’s edtech, products that are cost-effective and demonstrate value for money by having an impact on the teaching and learning, or by improving the workload and retention of staff. The edtech market, however, is becoming a rather cluttered place, and for some can seem somewhat daunting to navigate at the best of times.
This is where Innovate My School Speed Dating events come into their own, offering senior leaders and school business managers the opportunity to meet a number of edtech companies and providers of educational resources. By utilising “Schools are able to evaluate the usefulness of each of the products.”Speed Dating, schools are able to evaluate the usefulness of each of the products without the pressure of a one-to-one sales pitch on home ground, thus skipping the awkward end-of-pitch “No thanks”. Senior leaders can then decide whether to pursue the product further to determine if the investment in time and money will support the whole school community, have an impact on the teaching and learning or staff workload, provide value for money and / or deliver long-term results.
Listening to the sales pitch though is not the only process. I would recommend we also adopt further consultation processes with schools currently using the product, and ask for demo versions or free subscriptions for a limited period, meaning that we can thoroughly evaluate the product for impact and value for money. I have found that by contacting the product supplier directly, most are willing to accommodate our requests and help through trial periods.
School Aspect is one product we have embraced to support senior leaders and subject leaders in action planning, monitoring and performance management. This online product brings together the school development plan, school self-evaluation, monitoring exercises and performance management reviews into one easy-to-access place. This started with free training for all members of the senior leadership team from the product supplier, which was disseminated to subject leaders. School leaders now have online access to the school development plan, with email reminders of deadlines that they can access, meaning everyone has ownership on the objectives they are responsible for. Subject leaders have access to the system to develop subject action plans and model templates for monitoring purposes, which all links back to the development plan and self-evaluation. It is a system that ensures school improvement is at the heart of all we do, and is a changeable and working document that can be updated as frequently as is needed.
By engaging with the product supplier, through phone calls and face-to-face meetings, we now provide feedback on our school usage to show examples of how the product works in the work environment, improvements we feel could be made and possible new developments for the product. For example: members of our senior leadership team now help to suggest new ideas and create new templates for monitoring exercises, and the company discount the annual cost to our school to recompense for the work and ideas we provide.
As part of this whole process, senior leaders must be willing to invest the time needed to research the best products on the market. They must ensure that there is adequate time and training to introduce and integrate something new to staff and / or the pupils. Part of this process is the time invested in creating a good working relationship with the provider themselves, where they can support you and are willing to listen to you as a consumer in the feedback you provide. Whether or not this brings discounts for a school, it is still a valuable process to adopt to ensure the product is fit for purpose for your particular needs.
Negotiation is the key. Many suppliers are willing to provide discounts when schools sign up for multiple years or for multiple subscriptions, or give money back for recommendations. Senior leaders and school business managers should never be afraid to ask. The worst they can say is no!
As a school we have had free delivery for new metal sheds, 5% discount for a further purchase from the same company, 10% discounts offered when we signed up for email alerts for a company from whom we frequently purchase lighting, and many other offers. Most come, though, only by asking for discounts or a supplier’s “best price” - a bit like the programmes on TV when we see dealers buying from antique fairs where they always ask, “What is the best price you can do on this?”
This way, when you get it right you will wonder how you ever managed without the product, plus you’ll be pleased with the price you paid, knowing it was value for money and has the desired impact.
A further way to improve the school budget - to attain those items you would otherwise be unlikely to purchase on your existing budget - is through applications and bids for grants / funds. There are a great many charities and trusts out there, organisations who are only too willing to provide extra funds for schools and charities. Many of the supermarkets provide small grants, and some organisations provide up to £10k for bigger projects. Many are relatively easy to apply for using an online form, and require little information, whereas others are much more complex, needing a full project bid. Whichever you choose, there is money.
We have been successful in a number of grant applications. One example is Tesco Bags of Help, organised through Groundwork. This is where a school or charity completes an application for up to £4k funding for a specific project, and the successful applications decided upon by an in-store vote - those little tokens you collect at the till and place in one of three options. We ended up coming first in the vote and secured £3500 to purchase a Smooga system for our school grounds. More recently we applied to the Co-op Community Fund, and received £1500 to purchase picnic tables with table-top games for pupils to use at break and lunchtime.
Image courtesy of author
My advice when applying for grants is firstly to have a coordinated approach. Have a long-term plan, know what areas of school and which resources you would really like, and match these resources and products to the grant or charity. Many have a narrow remit, “You need a good working relationship with the provider.”so what you apply for must be closely matched to funding restrictions, and often their values. Read the application guidelines very, very carefully - not following the brief will mean you are unlikely to gain a grant, and you will have wasted valuable time applying.
If the grant relies upon a public vote then publicise widely: your parent body, social media, your website and everywhere else you can. This way you are much more likely to be successful. Have really goods reasons for applying for your resources. Add the educational benefits, do some research, and explain in layman’s terms why it would be good for the school. Remain positive in the application, and be willing to add a percentage of the overall costs from the school budget or PTA fundraising. I have found in some cases organisations are more willing to give a percentage rather than the whole cost. If the funding is only given to charities, use your PTA organisation in place of the school - however, I do recommend that the application is still completed in conjunction with a member of staff.
Lastly, don’t be daunted by the application. They may take a while to complete, but just think of the satisfaction when it is successful. The money appears, and you can cross something off that ever-growing wish list.
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