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8. The shared services frustration equation: what to look out for when centralising services

The final part of CJK Associates Autumn 2022 blog series #schooltrustcentralservices

In blog 4 we looked at trust growth and inflexion points. Here’s the same model, with a new axis, the ‘frustration level’.

The Shared Service Frustration Equation

As the trust grows, the trust’s central team and board (the green line above) is increasingly frustrated because it’s hard to get data, run the trust, be accountable, or make changes happen. Then shared services are put in place, and, perhaps after some teething problems, the green line showing frustration levels in the trust’s centre falls away. But for headteachers, it’s the opposite. They are finding that services that they used to control are not delivering what they need.

So what went wrong?

Headteachers at this point will typically observe the following about the shared service:

Unresponsive – “I used to be able to decide to run a recruitment advert at 5pm and have it out the same evening by hunkering down with my SBM/ PA. Now I fill in a form and wait.. thus missing the boat on candidates”.

Different priorities – “The site’s a mess today, but my caretaker says they have to prioritise getting PAT testing organised because it’s ‘red’ on the trust’s risk register”.

Lack of accountability - “If my school underperforms, Ofsted comes in and I get sacked. What happens in central ops?”.

Not demonstrating value for money – “I could do better with that money/ I did this better when I managed my own team”.

Lack of understanding of realities of each academy - “They took my SBM into a central Estates role and now my Deputy Head is organizing our estates compliance work”

There are dozens more common issues at the level of specific services. My contention is that they can all be solved providing the redesign is sound.

Solving the equation

I hope that having read this blog series, you will be less likely to hit the issues above. However, I want to leave you by emphasising 3 points:

1.Don’t skip the current state review: It’s tempting, I know! But a clear baseline of costs and service quality before making the change would help with discussions about how current performance compares to the past (blog 5, assessing the current model). If things have genuinely got worse/ more expensive, then you should rightly challenge the redesign and look to improve it. Similarly, if you went through a current state review you are very unlikely to design a new service which leaves holes (e.g. the estates example above) because you will have identified all the jobs that need to be done. School Business Managers, for example, frequently do more than Finance, HR, Estates and IT. They may also fill in on reception, support breaktime duties, manage local admin teams, manage contracts and services, support communication internally and externally, ensure data is going on to the MIS and payroll, and do the school’s marketing.

When CJK Associates works with trusts we make sure that these duties are understood and can be continued in a new service design.

2.‘Gives and gets’:

'Gives and gets' are a clear set of statements about what the central service will deliver, and what it is reasonable to expect schools to do in using that service. It’s important that this is a shared discussion between schools and services. This will shine a light on when a change in school approach – e.g. planning ahead for a recruitment – might mean a service response time can be longer, reducing the cost the service needs to take from overall trust budgets. Make this about shared problem solving, not ‘us’ and ‘them’; a chance to build the culture of collaboration that will be essential for your school group to thrive.

3.Service performance measures and reviews: Too often, there is little transparency about the performance of shared services. At CJK Associates we provide a benchmarked annual assessment of services as one way to address this. Clear reporting against agreed standards is also needed. Conclusion

I firmly believe that you can unlock individual passion and create supportive central services, if you take the right steps

We’ve reached the end of this Autumn blog series on Central services in school groups.If you’d like to be kept in touch with future articles or join our ‘Trust Research Panel’ then please register here.If you’d like to get in direct touch with me about support for your trust, then please get in touch on


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