Mutualising education support services – Sandwell Metroplitan Borough Council

Posted on 19th May, 2014

Sandwell’s journey to set up a mutual organisation for its education support services began in the autumn of 2010, to enable schools to buy into quality support services irrespective of their status – but why was change needed?

Sandwell, like many local authorities, found itself with a reduced role in supporting education as well as budget pressures which were beginning to impact on its support services to schools.  There was a further shift of funding to schools and schools in the Borough were changing status with many opting to become trust schools and academies.  So, in view of these pressures, the Council felt a completely different delivery model was needed to enable schools to continue to have quality support services provided to them.  The next stage was to find the right vehicle for delivering future services which all stakeholders could actively be a part of, so many ideas were considered as part of a formal options appraisal process.  From the outset, all major stakeholders opinions were sought, including Head Teachers and Governors.

Out of all of the options considered (do nothing, private sector mutual venture, company limited by guarantee or co-operative/mutual), it was the co-operative model which proved the most popular amongst all stakeholders, and so a unique way of delivering support services was born……a mutual society with educational establishments (its customers) as majority owners.

As part of the journey, there were many consultation meetings and scoping workshops held as well as a few ‘curve balls’ to deal with, such as state aid implications, which services should be included and what the organisational constitution should look like. All of these were overcome to enable Sandwell to go live with their first spin out co-operative organisation on 1st January 2013.

The SIPS Ltd Board has 11 Board Members in total, 7 of which are held by School Governors (4 of which are Head Teachers) representing educational establishments in their Learning Communities, 1 non-voting Employee Board Member and 1 non-voting Associate Member representative. The council has a minority shareholding of 2 seats on the Board.

Members of the organisation are the Governing Bodies of the educational establishments that buy services from SIPS and they can be as active in the organisation as they so choose.  It was important that the company was customer led and particularly by governing bodies as they are representatives of their schools and the communities in which they live.  Any surpluses that are created go back into the organisation and members, through their Board Representatives, decide how the money is invested.

It was important for all involved, to ensure that schools’ money is spent on making their establishments better places for children and young people to learn.

In the 15 months since spinning out, the company has continued to grow beyond Sandwell boundaries increasing the company’s turnover. However the Council is still able to support Sandwell schools by ensuring that an alternative delivery model for support services exists and is available to schools irrespective of their status.

To discuss Sandwell’s mutualisation of education support services, please contact the Council’s cooperative advocate Kerry Bolister, Director of Homes and Communities at kerry_bolister@sandwell.gov.uk.