Services key points
• We understand the idea of commissioning or buying in help from external services can be daunting
• There are differences between commissioning and procurement
• Use this page to think about why schools need to buy in services, and how to ensure services are of a good enough standard to meet your pupils’ needs
Where to begin?
“Commissioning”, “procurement”; “quality assurance”; “outcome measures”… suddenly feeling drowsy?
Well, stay awake! This is important stuff because it is about making the most of your budget to get the best for your vulnerable pupils.
Two things we want to help you with in this section:
• ‘Commissioning’ as opposed to ‘buying’ services – what’s the difference and how it will help ensure the best possible support for vulnerable pupils at the earliest stage
• When you know what services you need, help to find and procure the best quality, child and school-focused services
Many schools find the whole commissioning area baffling. But, before you jump straight to our Quick Guide to Commissioning below read why it is important to think beyond buying what you need right now to thinking about longer term, strategic commissioning.
What schools do
When a pupil needs extra support or more specialist input, schools tend to draw on all the resources available to them both internally and externally.
Sometimes they do one of the below and sometimes all three at once, whatever it takes!
Academic resilience is all about maximising what you can do in school with your existing resources. It’s all about strategic planning and detailed practice to help your vulnerable pupils to do better than you might have expected. It’s not always quick to put in place but it will be effective.
So you have that activity going on in school, but some pupils and their families need support that you cannot provide; it needs to come from the external system.
Schools cannot exist in isolation. You have to interact with the broader system of services and community groups and you need to get the best from it. You also have your pupil premium to help pay for some of that extra help.
Working with other agencies
You are worried about a pupil so you try everything but sometimes the services available to your pupils are not quite hitting the mark. It may be that you can’t get a referral accepted. Waiting times are too long. Sometimes an appointment might be offered but the very pupils who need the service most are the ones that don’t turn up!
You try to work with the external agencies but there are challenges – for some pupils the ‘team around the child’ feels more like ‘the crowd around the child’.
And once you have worked out who is who, who is assessing what, who knows what, and who is allowed to say what to who; another two weeks have gone by and your pupil has been bouncing off the walls and testing even your most angelic staff!
Are we painting a familiar picture? And it’s not that those individual professionals are not doing everything they can to help within the limitations of their own services. And let’s face it, they look as tired as you feel at the end of term! The bottom line is that some pupils need the kind of help which the school simply cannot give – either time-wise or skill-wise – and the external world of services is not always available or possibly even appropriate.
So, having argued your case for help until you’re blue in the face and with your hands truly wrung, you come back to look at the school budget. And you wonder, ‘What if we use an little bit of school funds, probably your pupil premium funding, to buy in the exact kind of service we need?’
Finding and buying in services
There are certain questions you will ask when you make the decision to buy in a service:
• Where will I find what’s out there?
• How will I know if it’s any good?
• Will the service be value for money?
The Youth Wellbeing Directory may be able to help with some of these questions.
Finding a service
Schools tell us that it can be really hard to find services. There are numerous charities and other voluntary sector (non-profit) services out there. Finding and procuring a service from them can be time consuming.
Some local authorities have developed a local directory, or possibly even gone a step further and created a contract or framework agreement with services which would be worth knowing about.
Because we know schools have a difficult job in finding local services, we have supported a project, led by the CAMHS EBPU (Evidence Based Practice Unit) to develop a national directory of services on one website the Youth Wellbeing Directory.
You can search their website for a service; searching by issue, area, target group among other things. The Directory will also help schools to understand the quality and value for money of services. See ‘What is a Quality Service’ below.
Contract or framework agreement
A contract or framework agreement is a method of contracting a range of services. The council or another body such as a Multi Academy Trust or Academy chain, can set up an over-arching contract with a range of providers (having gone out to tender).
There will then be a method for organising how the contract is drawn down by schools. In other words, schools might be asked to use the CAF (Common Assessment Framework), or a local multi agency team, or some other mechanism to assess and identify need.
Once identified, the contract can be used to access a service through the contract. In other words, schools don’t have to contract individually with each service as that has already been done which saves you lots of time!
The contracts are funded through different means in different areas, for example, top slicing the Dedicated Schools Grant in negotiation with School Heads, or pooling of Pupil Premium funding or possibly as part of a local authority ‘local offer’ to SEN pupils.
The great thing for schools is that they don’t have to do the finding and then assessing of service quality. The bad thing for schools is that the service they particularly want might not be on the framework. The very bad thing for the services is that it can mean that they put a lot of work in to winning a contract – but it is a zero-based contract. In other words they might not get any money unless the service is requested, which may have an impact on the sustainability of the organisations.
Either way the whole thing is likely to work way better if schools and services participate in setting it up, commit to help in developing local services and widely publicise it. No pressure – but engagement is everything.
What is a quality service?
Using the Youth Wellbeing Directory means that once you find services that match what you are looking for, you can compare them in terms of how they meet a set of standards.
The standards have been specifically developed to help you decide on quality and value for money.
They have been developed for all services which offer some kind of emotional and mental health service. It can be offering promotion of emotional wellbeing through to very specialist services and everything in between.
The standards are called ACE-V and are organised as follows:
Schools as commissioners
Not all commissioning has to be done in a rush. There is an expectation that schools will also act more strategically when it comes to assessing how best to use their budget over the longer term.
Recent years have seen unprecedented changes in public services. Funding and decision making which previously rested with the local authority has been devolved directly to schools, giving greater autonomy but not necessarily a bigger pot of money.
Schools are being held increasingly accountable for closing the gap in progress and achievement for disadvantaged groups of leaners. Schools are awarded Pupil Premium in order to support disadvantaged pupils so that they are not left behind – and you have to tell OfSTED and the world how you spend it.
Legislative changes for SEND pupils also mean new responsibilities for assessing and planning with health and other services. Personal budgets can be used by parents to purchase support from any service or organisation they wish. At the same time advice and support services from local authorities have shrunk, along with many health and other services due to funding cuts.
• All this is going on and what are the implications?
• How will you plan for it?
• The Council for Disabled Children have produced a briefing for schools.
If ever there was time when schools need to achieve (dare we say it) ‘more for less’ – it is now. Having said that we have been pretty impressed with the innovation which is emerging in these tough times.
For example, commissioning models to save money such as:
• Earlier identification of ‘at risk’ pupils and building their resilience through a range of support rather than waiting until they hit the wall and it’s all (expensive) hands on deck!
• Joint work with other schools on needs assessment and then gaining efficiencies through joint procurement of services such as counselling or family support.
• Some Academy chains and trusts are developing health education programmes and/or more specialist support services for the member schools.
• Some schools have opted out of paying for/buying back local authority ’traded’ services and have used the funding to procure more specialist support such as play therapy in primary schools, alternative curriculum therapeutic activity in short stay schools or Forest Schools.
• Some schools have developed their own in house bespoke posts such as a ’hybrid’ role with some traditional and newer responsibilities. For example, family support or welfare workers (building on the role of attendance officer) or family link/liaison staff who have a remit to link not only with family but also external service.
If you want to get involved in this kind of innovative commissioning with other schools then there’s likely to be a few ways in which you could start a ball rolling (and we’d be surprised if it hasn’t already come up).
For example, depending on the kind of school you are in, you could;
• Take the discussion to a locality based school cluster or group (if your school is part of one and if you are interested in hearing about what kind of services might be out there to be jointly commissioned) and invite the local Council for Voluntary Services for an overview.
• Similarly to above – raise it for discussion at your area’s Heads’ forum.
• Ask the Local Authority Children’s Commissioner for support – they would love to help you get organised if it helps organise the local system a bit more!
• Talk to your Academy board or appropriate lead within the trust.
If you are interested in finding out more about joint commissioning for resilience and mental health please get in touch as we can help you explore this area.
Procurement vs commissioning
Schools often ask, ‘What’s the difference between commissioning and procurement?’ The language is intertwined and can be confusing. It might however be worth knowing more about it because it might help you get better value for money and outcomes over time, so this is our extremely simple answer:
Procurement is about
• Buying services – service specifications or service level agreements, contracts, procurement rules and requirements
Commissioning is thinking more strategically about
• ‘Need’ over time, and comparatively across school e.g. demands on existing resources, competing needs, and the kinds of outcomes you are not getting but would like to such as: better concentration, attendance, improved peer relationships, family links and anger management.
• What kinds of services or professional skills best meet those needs and get those outcomes e.g. the evidence base, performance of existing services, new service models that might work better.
• How to get them e.g. through procurement but also considering options for joint commissioning, market development (helping local services to develop what you are interested in purchasing).
A scenario illustrating the difference between procurement and commissioning is available to download.
What to do next
If you read this and want more guidance on commissioning there are hundreds of resources and websites out there:
• Here is a handy catalogue we have put together to help you find them.
• Also you can download this short checklist to help you.
• If you are thinking about commissioning a specific resilience based programme you could download the resource on pros and cons of some of the many approaches that are out there.
Once you have identified needs and looked at what’s out there, you might realise that you are going to have to design what you need and go out to tender (ask organisations to bid to do the work).
Be clear what you want when you go out looking for services. To help you prioritise and organise your own thoughts, we’ve asked lots of Head Teachers what is most important to them when they are buying a service from outside.
These are some of the things that come up frequently:
• Experience in relation to working in a school environment
• Want to know costs up front
• What qualifications staff have
• How services meet standards such as safeguarding
• How information will be shared between school, family and other services
• Importance of references from other schools
• Basically the more integrated with the school the better!
Watch our short film about an alternative curriculum service provided by Sussex YMCA and purchased by secondary schools in Brighton and Hove for pupils at risk of exclusion. This service was designed with input from schools in order to meet their needs.
Of course, there are many examples of great value services on for schools from charities and other non-profit making organisations.
We picked this one out because we like the model of employing ex pupils on other programmes which the charity runs – this is a great resilience enhancing model and provides added value all round.
Find a service near you through the national Youth Wellbeing Directory and start designing services to meet your needs.
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