Should spending by schools have a ‘John Lewis’ style test?

Janet Downs's picture
The so-called ‘John Lewis’ test for assessing MPs’ spending was controversial. It allowed MPs to use taxpayers’ money to furnish their second homes against a list which allowed, among other things, £1000 for a bed (cheaper in Argos) and £100 for a coffee maker (what’s wrong with a kettle?). The list was eventually banned.

But is there some mileage in having a similar system for school spending? I’m not suggesting John Lewis, IKEA or Furnitureland but judging school expenditure against the prices of school purchasing organisations such as Espo.

I’m not suggesting schools would be forced to buy from these organisations – that would undermine school autonomy in deciding how to spend budgets. But it would send out a clear message about what is acceptable and unacceptable expenditure. Under such a system the academy head who purchased a conference table for nearly £5000 would have this spending judged against the cost of buying the item (oak, maple or beech) from Espo for £370.

Similarly, there could be a ‘John Lewis’ type checklist to monitor how much parents are forced to pay for mandatory items of school uniform. The cost of these could be judged against, say, Marks and Spencer prices. This would show whether parents were being expected to pay more for a uniform at a particular school than they would have to pay if buying the same item from the High Street. For example, the blazer for Heron Hall Academy, a secondary free school, costs between £57 and £59 from the school’s sole supplier. Similarly, The Grey Coat Hospital School, chosen by the ex-education secretary for his daughter, mandates a blazer costing £65 to £85. The London Oratory School, where the deputy Prime Minister sends his son, charges £95 to £115 for its blazer. A blazer from M&S would cost between £20 and £35 depending on size and style; Asda charges from £11.

The Citizens Advice Bureau said in September the cost of uniforms was putting some parents off their first choice of school. Yet Government guidelines say, ‘No school uniform should be so expensive as to leave pupils or their families feeling unable to apply to, or attend, a school of their choice, due to the cost of the uniform.’ Perhaps a ‘John Lewis’ style price check list would prevent schools from making expensive items of school dress compulsory.


And a similar list for school spending would prevent principals spending public money wastefully.
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Roger Titcombe's picture
Wed, 05/11/2014 - 18:33

Janet - So it would, but so also would an effective governing body containing elected staff and parent governors together with a local county councillor, all having access to an active LA governor support unit.

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