Schools are facing increasing budgetary pressures and, with the continuing uncertainty surrounding the roll out of the National Funding Formula over the next three years, this burden is unlikely to ease.
The need to identify new solutions to prepare for the financial challenges that are likely to lay ahead is being encouraged.
We are seeing many forward-thinking academy trusts collaborating to optimise operations, share best practice and ultimately create time and resource efficiencies, and financial savings.
We would like to share one real example where two academy trusts, Greenshaw Learning Trust and Folio Education Trust, came together to centralise their catering procurement to achieve economies of scale that wouldn’t be possible on their own. Luis De Abreu, Head of Catering at Greenshaw Learning Trust and Rowan Kitchen, Executive Head of Catering for Folio Education Trust explain in detail the benefits both Trusts have reaped as a result of working together.
“By being bold and working together we have not only centralised our approach to procurement, but we have been able to take advantage of technology to optimise the way we work. We’re achieving economies of scale that wouldn’t be possible on our own, and with support from Pelican, food-procurement expert, we are confidently working towards our long-term aspirations, which is to deliver the healthiest food choices possible to our students.”
Rowan Kitchen, Executive Head of Catering, Folio Education Trust
Luis says: “Greenshaw Learning Trust started with four schools and today we have 12 schools, which unites 7,600 students and employs 1,600 staff. We like to collaborate with other schools, whether in the Trust or outside, and we were delighted when our neighbouring Folio Education Trust got in touch to discuss the potential of working together to identify efficiencies for our catering functions.”
Folio Education Trust currently has four schools under its wing, with a new flagship academy launching in September 2018. In all, it will be responsible for over 2,400 students and approximately 280 staff members. The Trust has recently moved from contract catering back to an in-house operation, managed and overseen at head office level by Rowan.
Explains Rowan: “I was keen to embrace innovation and identify new ways of making financial savings without impacting on the quality of food being served to our students. The problem we face today, is that schools are expanding however, the infrastructure isn’t. Most school kitchens would have been originally created to feed up to 200 students, however the number of pupils continues to grow, yet the equipment or facilities hasn’t. For us, collaborating with another Trust made economic sense.”
“We are 100% focused on our students and in providing healthy food choices,” explains Luis. “As the larger Trust, we already had processes and systems in place for growth and it was clear we would be able to support one another in our journeys.”
Working with procurement experts
A major facet of these processes and systems is an existing relationship Greenshaw Learning Trust has with Pelican Procurement Services, which manages the Trust’s catering procurement and supply chain – supported by Pelican’s Pi, a cloud-based back-office system.
Explains Rowan: “Any change management process in education is slow, getting schools on board with centralised procurement, ordering, standardisation of processes – even between schools – isn’t something that happens overnight. Schools tend to operate their own IT systems which are not easily integrated, and this has been one of the biggest challenges. It was therefore refreshing when we saw how Greenshaw Trust had established a relationship with Pelican, which has broken down these barriers.”
Achieving significant savings
One of the first steps recommended by Pelican was for both Trusts to re-tender their food purchases – the first as a joint entity. By amalgamating the purchasing, it would create more competitive pricing, driven by the increased volumes. The result of this exercise delivered an additional £30,000 savings for both Trusts, which in a time of Brexit uncertainty and increasing food prices, is even more impressive.
Confirms Rowan: “The financial savings achieved with the very first round of re-tendering was impressive and it was clear that combining the two Trusts would be beneficial all round. However, it also meant we could benchmark suppliers, evaluate service levels and ensure we are receiving an all-round better service.”
Ongoing price management ensuring best value at all times
“A good example of Pelican’s supply chain management is that they ensure we get the best value at all times, and any proposed price increases by the suppliers are fair and justified,” confirms Luis. “After three months of the contract starting, the butchery company proposed a price increase of 16.6%. Whilst we were happy with the quality and service levels, Pelican was not willing to accept an increase of this size. By using data from other suppliers, client contracts and its knowledge of the market, Pelican was able to successfully re-negotiate cheaper prices. They also arranged a meeting at the butchery depot, so we could look at alternative cuts of meats, they organised samples and taster sessions to ensure we were happy with the quality, and as a result we minimised the price increase being made, meaning there was little impact on budgets, quality or service delivery.”
Smart technology delivering operational efficiencies and control
Underpinning Pelican’s service is the online procurement system, Pi, which is designed to provide a centralised view of the complete purchasing operation. With live data received directly from suppliers, the system provides the Trusts with immediate transparency.
“The Pi system greatly reduces administration time,” explains Luis. “Our school managers and catering team have less burdens placed on them. For example, stocktaking used to be managed on spreadsheets and every couple of months the prices would need to be manually checked. Now, in Pi, the prices are updated automatically. Invoice reconciliation, statements, ordering, invoicing and menu planning are all included; Pi provides it all.”
From Folio’s perspective, the centralised approach to procurement is creating a number of benefits, as Rowan explains: “We are already seeing financial savings, as well as the standardisation of processes but, in addition to this, we are receiving proactive advice on new products and are alerted to special offers. We’re able to audit these, to see if there’s anything we can use, then allow school managers to choose from these – offering controlled choice.”
Benefits achieved so far
When asked about the improvements that have been achieved since the partnership started, Luis is quick to confirm that it is supporting Greenshaw Learning Trust to meet its goal for continual improvement: “We are able to achieve financial savings without impacting on quality or service, which would be difficult to achieve ourselves. Food prices are increasing in every category, yet with Pelican’s view of the market they have identified savings, which we need in this financial climate.”
For Folio, the financial savings are just one benefit as Rowan explains: “This whole process has been a trigger for us to be able to achieve our long, medium and short term goals. We’ve converted from contract catering to in-house, so there’s been a focus on retraining our catering staff to use real, fresh food and move away from convenience. We have a vision to contribute to the changing face of the education system – we want to be one of the top five performing Trusts, with the students very much at the heart of everything we do. Collaboration is key to making this a reality.”
Continues Luis: “What I like is that our Trusts share similar objectives and vision, which is to ultimately make the lives of our students better. We can do this through delivering the best quality food possible, and support them in making healthier food choices. By working together using a centralised procurement approach, this makes our goals achievable.”
Concludes Rowan: “By being bold and working together with Greenshaw, we have not only centralised our approach to procurement, but we have been able to take advantage of technology to optimise the way we work. We’re achieving economies of scale that wouldn’t be possible on our own, and with support from Pelican, we are confidently working towards our long-term aspirations, which is to deliver the healthiest food choices possible to our students.”
Current project in progress
Rowan says: With the imminent opening of the Folio Trusts new flagship school “Coombe Wood School” in September 2018 and its emphasis on Health Related Fitness (HRF) and wellbeing, we have taken the bold step of not providing any of the unhealthy favourite choices on our menus, this means such items as pizza, chips, battered fish and any item with a reference to chocolate, high sugars or fats.
We are fully aware that this will be a big cultural change to our students, but we strongly feel by doing this from the outset of the autumn term it will ease this change to a healthier lifestyle. The impact of the Coombe Wood School project has provided the impetus for us to roll out this new programme of healthier eating across all of our other schools over the next year.
This has only been made possible with the support of suppliers and Pelican Procurement Services, providing the new products and knowledge to ensure we are not only meeting school national nutritional standards, but are exceeding them.
Jonathan Wilden – Chief Executive Officer for Folio Education Trust said; “Coombe Wood School will change the way secondary schools support all young people in discovering and reaching their potential in HRF and Sport. The nutrition provided by our catering services will ensure children fuel their bodies in the right way to perform to the highest standard. It is important to us as a leading organisation in education that every aspect of our service provision contributes towards the well-being and success of young people.
“By fuelling their bodies correctly they will achieve more, feel happy and crave the next step of their education, training or employment as they realise impossible is nothing.”
Luis says: In September, we’re starting a new healthy eating programme in our secondary schools – snacks are going to be removed and we will no longer have options such as pizza on the menus, instead we will be serving low calorie dishes, street food-style dishes, which offer students an experience more akin to the high street, which they like. It’s pretty experimental, but we’re excited to be leading with this cultural change”