The trouble with efficiency

If you walked into an incredibly efficient school, how would you know it was efficient?

The trouble with efficiency is that it is often very hard to measure.

Sometimes, of course, we can see inefficiency, as for example at my local council offices where I have to stand in a long queue to get a ticket which allocates me to another queue where my query can be answered. A notice on the wall telling us which window deals with which enquiries would cut the queuing time considerably.

But when things seem to be working ok, it is hard to tell if they are running at maximum efficiency or not.

As a result, if we look at an organisation such as a school and don’t see any glaring inefficiencies we tend to believe that the organisation is both effective and efficient.

And, of course, this might be a valid analysis. The school is indeed effective in doing what it wants to do and efficient in the way it goes about it.

But, as with most other things in life, there are grades of efficiency. Indeed, most people who have studied efficiency would argue that no organisation is ever totally efficient. There is always some wastage of physical resources, time and energy.

Indeed in one school a simple change to the way timetabling was arranged saved £50,000 a year. In another, the installation of a false ceiling in a Victorian building reduced the heating bill by £10,000 a year.

In yet another a change to the way in-school printing was arranged and paid for reduced that bill by an amazing £30,000 a year.

And all of this was done without changing the way teaching and learning took place.

Of course, the route each school chooses is always different. For some it involves changing school meal providers. In others it involves checking the way leasing contracts are being handled. Some simply change their email system so that the time taken to check the school’s emails each morning is reduced by half.

The key issue in all this is that of how the school goes about looking for efficiencies.

Staff who are asked in general terms to come up with ideas for efficiency tend not to find many such ideas. But where a very particular four-step approach to efficiency is followed, efficiencies are always found.

The four-step approach to efficiency was evolved by the School of Educational Administration and Management which was founded in 2005 with support from the Department of Trade and Industry and the University of Northampton Faculty of Education.

Since then the SEAM has worked with thousands of schools to establish which processes work in saving schools money, and now many of our findings are reported in one volume: “The Efficient School.”

This book reveals not only many of the projects that schools have introduced in recent years in order to achieve efficiencies but also explores areas in which savings can be made. It also reviews the way in which the whole issue of changing well-established processes and habits can be built into the school’s ethos.

The Efficient School is available in copiable form (as a printed volume or on CD) so that it can be distributed to all interested members of staff.

ISBN: 978 1 86083 811 8 Order code: T1803emn – please quote with order.

Sample pages can be viewed at

Photocopiable book, £24.95 plus £3.95 delivery
CD with school-wide rights: £24.95 plus £3.95 delivery
Both the book and the CD: £31.94 plus £3.95 delivery
Prices include VAT.
You can purchase the report…

By post to First and Best, Hamilton House, Earlstrees Ct., Earlstrees Way, Corby, NN17 4HH
On the phone with a school order number at 01536 399 011
By fax to 01536 399 012
By email to with a school order number
On line with a credit card at

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