Gareth Jones, the managing editor of Eduzine, believes there are some interesting new ethical businesses – in the form of Community Interest Companies (CICs) – which not only provide services for schools at cost but also return any unplanned profits to the schools. Here are his thoughts…
The ever-reducing capacity of Local Authorities to be able to support their schools has caused serious concern for some time. There is no doubt that there are plenty of private sector organisations circling above, ready to gorge on the budget carcasses below. Many have good intentions, yet most will generate significant profits for shareholders, at the expense of facilities, resources and teachers in schools.
However, rather that view this as a threat, the most forward thinking schools are challenging companies to deliver products and services at cost. This inspirational approach has led to the emergence of ethical businesses, in the form of Community Interest Companies (CICs), which not only provide services at cost, but return any unplanned profits arising to the schools (in line with their legal status). Eduzine, the voice of pupils & students, has been investigating some of these organisations and indeed commissioned our own magazine sponsor, DragonZfire Limited (Accountants and Business Consultants) to advise on the financial credibility / sustainability of two such suppliers / providers and their business plans. We recently visited ‘fairandfunky’, a Yorkshire based provider of ecological and ethical advice and workshops to school staff, as well as classroom tuition and children’s workshops. We also visited the offices of Essex based ‘4MySchools’ , a supply teacher and recruitment agency. Our findings are both astounding and inspiring!
fairandfunky and 4MySchools are CICs. By law these organisations must demonstrate that they offer genuine benefits to the communities they serve and must return profits to their communities, not to shareholders. When CICs were established as a new non-profit community business model, it was thought that they would provide services of a niche or specialist nature, with a common belief that they could not possibly compete with mainstream profit-making providers. However, the reality has been that many CIC organisations, especially within the education sector and including both those we visited, have demonstrated that not only can they survive against the commercial competition, moreover they can evidently thrive. Our research suggests that there is a moral demand, against which the profit-making commercial suppliers of all sizes cannot compete.
The success of fairandfunky and 4MySchools appears to be more about their ethos, beliefs and ethics than the services offered. Yes they supply quality services (as do their commercial competitors), yes they need to charge for their services, yes they are subject to taxation, yes they do chase invoices, yes they have sales staff … but the difference is at fairandfunky and at 4MySchools, they are promoting an ethos, which includes a service/product, rather than selling a service for profit!
Mark Thompson from DragonZfire Limited told us about the fairandfunky and 4MySchools CIC review “The systems, procedures, financial records, safeguarding and all service specifications for all services we reviewed, were not only in full order, but of a high quality, high standard and well maintained. Their business plans are based upon high specification services, with high volume & low margins (as they are not seeking to make profits for shareholders). This ensures that their customer satisfaction rates are also extremely high. The business ideologies and plans are as sound and secure as the virtuous core educational beliefs. Many profit-making companies make £Millions for shareholders every year, despite the economic crisis and this has been paid from school budgets! That simply cannot be right and it’s good to see clear evidence that the tide is turning and turning in a sustainable manner. This will ultimately help alleviate some of the effects of the deep budget cuts of recent years, ensuring better outcomes for children.”
Mark Payne CEO at 4MySchools, with specific reference to their supply staff service provision, said “We pay teachers the best rates and charge our school clients as little as possible. We also take direction from school leaders and cover managers to ensure that we deliver on their expectations and requirements. This ensures they receive the best possible service.”
Helen Robinson, Co-Director at fairandfunky added “It’s not just about the services and the products we offer. Our success is built on our fundamental belief that we want to educate young people for the benefit of the local, national and global communities in which we all live. Profit is not in our DNA as we seek to help and support schools, not take from them. We are delighted to hear that more and more CICs are being established to provide real benefits for children. We fully support the Eduzine campaign, driven by students, to establish a comprehensive service provision for schools and colleges, built on ethical supply principles and not money-making doctrines.”
The conclusions drawn by our young editorial team, from the research undertaken, are that services, of higher quality than those historically provided by both the former LA internal & external contractors and those of traditional public & private limited companies, are now being received by schools and at lower cost. These are being supplied and delivered by ethical organisations, run by people with strong moral beliefs, who have a clear desire to improve outcomes for children and young adults. The surprising headline is that the vast majority of schools remain either apathetic or ignorant of the opportunities and benefits on offer via ethical CICs. This is causing serious educational disadvantage to their students, something clearly unacceptable to our own young team.
Our message to schools; don’t deliver adequate education to our fellow students, through following the same old routines, indifference and a lack of enthusiasm for change. Deliver a quality ‘outstanding’ education by waking up to the new opportunities in 2014!
More information from:
Eduzine – www.eduzine.org
DragonZfire Limited – www.dragonzfire.co.uk
4MySchools – www.4myschools.org
fairandfunky – www.fairandfunky.com
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