How can two schools be so different?

Two school administrations. Both set in very similar schools, each with a very similar social background.

One is a happy, coordinated team whose workload is always managed without recourse to any overtime.

The other is a place where there never seems to be enough time to cover all the work, and where, sad to say, some colleagues suffer a rather high level of stress.

Both schools have dedicated, well-motivated staff. Both are well-run schools. But there is a key difference between them, a key issue that determines whether life within the school’s management and administration is a readily manageable and pleasant job or is ultimately overwhelming.

That key issue is quite simply whether anyone has considered the school office and the way it works, and has then worked through some simple changes which can make the world of difference.

If there has been serious consideration as to how the school administration and management works, then there is every chance that it will run ever more efficiently and effectively. Where school management is simply allowed to evolve to solve each new issue in turn, there is less chance that it is running as efficiently as possible.

In fact, a fair number of schools do allow the school admin to evolve over time, and, as a result, as a survey by the School of Educational Administration and Management revealed, over two thirds of school administrators are regularly involved in unpaid overtime but are not involved in devising an efficiency programme to reduce their workload.

Likewise a fair number of schools have no management system to control the amount of work being given to the school office at any particular time. Those schools which do are invariably able to change systems and processes in order to make the work much more manageable.

Also of interest is the fact that most schools that have an administration that is working without the need for unpaid overtime have processes in place to manage the level of interruption that the school office faces. Those which rely on overtime tend to view that interruptions are part of school office life and nothing can be done to reduce them.

It is to look at and resolve issues like these that the SEAM was set up 10 years ago with government funding and the support of the University of Northampton.

Since then we have developed our three courses all of which are taught totally via distance learning. The courses are…

The Certificate in School Efficiency course. This takes two months and covers not only how efficiencies are made but also details the efficiency programmes that schools have introduced during recent years as a result of doing the course. Starting dates 15 Sept, 13 October, 10 November, 12 January.

The National Certificate in School Administration covers a very wide range of fields including work management, government policy, education and the law, office administration and business management. The course takes one year. Next starting date 13 October.

The Certificate in Management Practice. This takes two months, and covers time management, stress management and dealing with visitors. Next starting date is 10 November.

To find out more please do visit If you have any questions you can call us on 01536 399 007 or email
Tony Attwood
School of Educational Administration and Management



Two schools, much the same, but so different

What is it that allows some schools always to run smoothly, while others seem to face regular overloads?

Imagine a school administrator who is much appreciated within the school. Admired even. Someone who gets everything done without a fuss, on time, all the time.

And one day, she announces she’s leaving.

There is a considerable amount of concern among senior management. Why is she going? Is the family moving away? Is she not well? Is there some other problem?

And imagine the emotions felt when the answer comes back that this lady who has done such sterling work for so long actually doesn’t want this job any longer because the job has become impossible.

Such situations have been reported a number of times in recent years to the School of Educational Administration and Management, and each time, with the co-operation of all concerned, we’ve sought to investigate what the problem is.

Of course, each case is different, but we have found certain key issues turning up again and again.

One prime issue is the lack of control from senior management as to how much work goes into the office. With a number of people able to walk in and request work to be done, no one but the administrator knows how much work is being passed through the administration. Indeed no one controls the volume of work or the timing.

Then there can be the issue of interruptions. Some schools take interruption to the work of the school office as part and parcel of the job – and indeed to some degree this must be the case. But in some situations the level of interruptions gets totally out of control – and as a result the administrator finds it harder and harder to complete her work.

Finally we have the issue of integration. In some schools representatives of administration attend staff meetings and management meetings – and not just as minute takers. In others they are not invited because there is an expectation that what is discussed would be of no interest. And in others there is a feeling that it is inappropriate for administrators to be in a staff meeting.

Each of these different attitudes towards issues such as workload, interruptions and sharing information result in different relationships between the office, the management and the teachers. And it is that relationship which determines both the efficiency of the office and to a major degree the efficiency of the school.

The SEAM, which was set up ten years ago with government funding and the support of the University of Northampton, runs three on-line courses which are detailed below.

Students have their own tutor with whom they can discuss matters on-line, and there are no classes to attend. Courses start at regular dates throughout the year.

The Certificate in School Efficiency course takes two months and covers not only how efficiencies are made but also details the efficiency programmes that schools have introduced during recent years as a result of doing the course. Starting dates 15 Sept, 13 October, 10 November, 12 January.

The National Certificate in School Administration covers a very wide range of fields including work management, government policy, education and the law, office administration and business management. The course takes one year. Next starting date 13 October.

Finally there is the Certificate in Work Management course. This takes two months and covers time management, stress management and dealing with visitors. Next starting date 10 November.

To find out more please do visit If you have any questions you can call us on 01536 399 007 or email
Tony Attwood
School of Educational Administration and Management



The recent evolution of British Sign Language

Because of the high number of pupils with hearing difficulties attending mainstream schools I often like to share with you the articles and updates from SEN Magazine regarding British Sign Language (BSL).

Researchers at the Deafness Cognition and Language Research Centre, funded by ESRC, at University College London have found, through conducting an observational experiment, that BSL is in fact evolving in the younger generations.

The study consisted of filming 250 BSL users from 8 cities across the UK to document the naturally evolving language. Although the researchers knew they would find some changes, they did not predict the extent and nature of these changes.

They discovered that the elder generation were using vocabulary from the area they grew up in (which is what the researchers expected), but the younger generation were using more universal/national signing vocabulary.

It is thought that watching signers on the TV and internet is influencing deaf people’s choice of vocabulary/signs, hence the increasing loss of regional signing variations.

It has also been suggested that the closure of deaf schools are a contributing factor, as deaf people now learn alongside hearing peers in mainstream schools, giving them a different experience and perspective of communication.

Lead researcher, Dr Cormier commented: “In the past, different varieties of BSL developed separately in the schools for deaf children that used to exist across the country. Schools were the basis of communities of deaf people, just like villages used to be the basis of communities of hearing people

“Quite a lot of deaf people are proud of their regional variations, and would see it as a shame if they were lost

“However, the data we have collected will be recorded for long-term preservation so these signs are not forgotten”

Link to article:



The School Procurement Site ( is a free listing of hundreds of UK school products and suppliers, with details of numerous free resources, divided up by subject area. There are also links to their websites in each case.

Tony Attwood
Hamilton House Mailings Ltd

A free report on the most effective way of ensuring that the school office runs as efficiently as possible – without you having to do unpaid overtime

Research by the School of Educational Administration and Management has shown that over two thirds of school administrators are working unpaid overtime several days a week, each week of the school year.

Although most administrators are willing to do this, this situation is one that inevitably puts enormous strain both on staff and on the system they are seeking to keep going.

However, there is an administrative process which costs the school nothing, but which when undertaken can help alleviate the difficulties that many school offices face and reduce the level of stress that some administrators may feel.

This approach is described in the document “The most effective way of making the school office run smoothly by reducing the administrative overloadwhich has been produced by SEAM, primarily for administrators who are students on our School Efficiency and School Administration courses.

The report is available free of charge by email. If you would like a copy please simply email us with the text “SEAM Efficiency report – 14106” in the subject line.

If you would like to know more about the work of the SEAM and our courses there are details on

If you have any enquiries please do call 01536 399 007.

Tony Attwood

The School of Educational Administration and Management was set up with government funding via the DTI, and with the support of the University of Northampton. Our address is

School of Educational Administration and Management
Hamilton House
Earlstrees Ct., Earlstrees Rd
NN17 4HH

How the school office can reduce the number of phone calls and visits from parents

One of the most common problems that administrators report to the School of Educational Administration and Management is the level of telephone and personal enquiries from parents about everyday issues.

The problem is that many of the items that the parents enquire about are things that can be answered by being placed on the school website. And indeed most schools do put the answers on the website – but still the parents phone or pop into the office when dropping off the children.

So what is to be done?

My own research with the School of Educational Administration and Management leads me to believe that you can change parent behaviour without too much difficulty – if you adopt a particular strategy.

The first point is always that people are more likely to change their behaviour if they understand why you want them to change their behaviour.

So if you tell parents through emails, letters and the like that the information they seek is on the website, then they might look – but if they prefer to phone or pop in they will continue to do exactly this.

But if on the other hand you say something along these lines, it can work…

“As I hope you know, we’re always happy to take your phone calls or see you personally but… we’ve currently got a bit of a problem in the school office, and I am hoping that you will be able to help me.

“The ways in which schools work is becoming more and more complicated, which means that more and more work is coming through the school administration. So we’re getting a bit overloaded.

“Now, of course, you are never going to be turned away from the school office, and we’re never going to refrain from answering the phone as quickly as possible. But if we can’t find ways of reducing the level of work in the office we are going either to restrict when we can answer the phone and receive visitors or take on extra office staff.

“That might mean that some urgent enquiries might not be answered quickly, or it will mean diverting more money away from the classroom and your children, and instead putting it into administration.

“To help us as we try to balance what we do, I would ask that you have a look at the school website and see if the information that you seek is there, before you come in or phone. It really will help us, and very directly, help the school continue to give your child a better education.”

“For example, on the website you will find ….”

Of course, the parents will forget all this fairly quickly, so you’ll need to send out a second letter soon after saying “thank you” to everyone for reducing the number of calls and visits, while hoping this decline can go even further. Then you can highlight a few other pages from the website, and so on.

The next time around you could say, “let us know what you can’t find at once on the we site, and we’ll put it there,” and so on.

After that you could start publishing the number of phone calls and visits you get each week about issues that are on the website.

You won’t get rid of every call and every visit, but just cutting them in half could help.

And to add one other point. I appreciate that the response to tactics like this in some schools can be one that says “no, we are here to support the parents, no matter what,” and that is a perfectly valid point of view. All I’m suggesting is that if a certain type of phone call or visit is wasting your time, there are often tactics that can be used to cut the level of that type of call or visit in half.

There’s more information about the SEAM and what we do on

Tony Attwood

There are two ways of looking at the school office.

Sometimes there seems no way out of an overload of work. But it is often a matter of perspective.

To take the point in the subject line above, one view of the school is that the way it presently is is the way it has to be, and the job of the administrator is to cope with the situation as best s/he can.

The other approach is to think, “no it doesn’t have to be like this – I can work to change the approach and so get rid of this problem.”

As I talk to colleagues in schools and as I mark the activities undertaken by administrators on our on-line programmes, I am struck by the fact that quite often the emphasis is on the former approach. How it is, is how it has to be.

I think the trick is to choose one – and only one – aspect of your work in the school office that you really don’t like and which you think uses up ludicrous amounts of your time, and then see if it can be changed.

Let me give just two examples.

First, take for example the issue of parents queuing up at the school office window after they have dropped their children off or while waiting to pick them up.

One might think that these parents might get a bit fed up with the queuing but in some reports I have seen this is not the case. They actually enjoy it, because it gives them a chance to chat with other parents and pass a pleasant few minutes.

So the length of the queue is not a deterrent. And indeed many of them turn up just to hand over a form, make a payment in an envelope, or ask for information that is available on the website.

The solution is to put a box for forms and envelopes by the office window, on a shelf outside, and then each time one is handed over, it can be simply dropped into the box marked “Please put your forms and payment envelopes here”. So the matter is dealt with and the point made – “you could have done this yourself”.

As for those asking for information that is on the website, a big sign can be put up outlining some of the most common issues (dates of half term, sports day etc) and saying they are dealt with on the website. If this doesn’t work a page can be printed out with the answer to these most common questions and put by the side of the window.

Some parents even then have been known to ask for it to be printed out for them – but the answer is, sorry, I can’t leave the queue, but it is all on our website – the address is on the piece of paper.

Now I know the impetus is always to help people – but there has to be a limit. It doesn’t make sense to get to a position where through helping people in these sorts of ways when they could help themselves, the whole office support service becomes totally overloaded. (Of course if you have spare time, helping people is nice – it helps pass the time of time. Just enjoy your situation – not many school offices have that amount of time to spare.)

In another example a school was overloaded by sales calls. One solution that was hit on was to set up a phone line with an answering machine on inviting companies to leave their message there. Some, of course, then phoned the main line asking to speak to a particular person, but the answer then was always the same – phone the other number.

“There’s just an answering machine message” would come the plaintive reply from the salesman.

“Yes,” said the administrator “just leave your message.”

“But can’t you help me?” asked the salesman. “I want to tell you about…”

“No, school policy is you must phone that number and leave a message. We’ll get back to you.”

Of course, again if you are not overloaded with salesmen on the phone, there’s no problem, but these simple examples do show the point. If you face an overload problem, and can just think, “it doesn’t have to be like this,” you can most often find a solution.

If you have a particular problem of this type which is overloading your office and you want to send it to me, I’ll post it on the newsgroup, and we’ll see if anyone else has faced the issue and come up with an answer.

Just email and write Annoyance in the subject line.

Tony Attwood



Efficiency in the office is all about reducing interruptions

Are there really ways of reducing interruptions to work in the school office? The new free SEAM report says “yes”.

There are two views of interruptions when it comes to working in the school office. One is that they are inevitable – just something you have to live with. The other is that by careful handling of the situation interruptions can be reduced to a manageable level.

The problem with the second approach is that it is sometimes felt that “it won’t work here” – although, having looked at evidence from a variety of schools, in my view that belief only arises because the initial approach to reducing interruptions is not seen through.

For one thing is sure: in most schools, just saying (for example) “no visitors between 9am and 10am” isn’t enough. You need a secondary policy on how to handle the people who still insist on popping in with the “I know I’m not supposed to ask you now, but…” approach.

The fact is that if you can get rid of interruptions you can get your work done more efficiently and reduce any hours of unpaid overtime that you might be doing at the moment.

And this, of course, is the weapon that you can use to persuade those above you in the management hierarchy that a policy on reducing interruptions is a good idea, should be implemented, and should be maintained.

A new report: “Increasing efficiency in the school office by reducing interruptions” will be available, free of charge from 30 June. If you would like a copy please email and write the phrase “Report on Interruptions” in the subject line. We’ll email it back to you once it is published.

I do hope you find it helpful.

Tony Attwood
Chair, School of Educational Administration and Management.


“All school administrations can implement efficiency measures”.

That is the bold assertion of the School of Education Administration and Management which was set up with government funding in conjunction with the University of Northampton seven years ago.

Behind this view is a simple idea: that just as there are a hundred ways of teaching a lesson in the classroom, so there are a hundred ways of organising a school office. However, the SEAM also offered a warning. Efficiencies were not always that easy to find, not that easy to implement. Indeed once implemented they needed careful nurturing to ensure that the old inefficient ways did not reassert themselves.

Traditionally most schools have focussed on what happens in the classroom, while the school office has been treated as something that is as it is.

However, observation suggests that different schools do organise their administrations in different ways and that some approaches can make a significant difference to the effectiveness and efficiency of the school’s work.

At the heart of this volume is the notion that there is a way of organising school administration that is much more effective than any other approach.

This report gives examples of school efficiencies and questions how one can change long-established approaches to leadership, change management, time management, facilities management, budgeting and organisations behaviour.

The approaches outlined here do not require higher budgets; they simply put in place processes that inevitably lead to a smoother throughput of information and activity, which means there are fewer disruptions, fewer errors, and ultimately more time for everything to be done. The report covers issues such as the structure of the administration of the school, work management within the administrative department, change management, facilities management, budgeting, organisational behaviour and legal issues within the school office.

One of the fundamental issues within the report is that changes only work to the benefit of the organisation when everyone understands what is going on and why the changes are being implemented. For this reason Increasing the Efficiency of School Administration is available as a photocopiable report, which allows you to give sections of the report to your colleagues. There is no restriction on the number of copies that can be made for use within your school. An edition of the book is also available on CD Rom for printing out via Word.

The report, Increasing the Efficiency of School Administration, has been prepared by Tony Attwood, the director of the School of Educational Administration and Management.

There are sample pages from the photocopiable book at

Publisher’s reference: T1744EMN ISBN: 978 1 86083 798 2


  • Photocopiable book: £29.95 plus £3.95 delivery
  • CD with school-wide rights: £29.95 plus £3.95 delivery
  • Both the book and the CD: £36.94 plus £3.95 delivery

Prices include VAT.

You can purchase the report… please quote the order ref: T1744EMN


Keeping free school meals numbers up

How to ensure that primary schools in England don’t lose government funding when the new free school meals initiative starts.

Further to my comments about free school meals and the financial dangers lurking with the new arrangements for next year, I have received a huge range of replies relating to how one can ensure that parents continue to register for free school meals and thus schools can continue to get the financing as before.

The most popular way to do this is the simple way. One writes to the relevant parents and explains to them briefly that it would give the school extra funding if they completed the registration form.

Now I do know of a couple of schools that have said to me that they have looked at this, but the results were poor. But I think this approach does work, although it does depend very much on the wording of the letter. Strange as it might seem, very slight changes of phrase can greatly affect the response rate.

Also, given how much is at stake I agree with what many schools are doing – which is to offer an incentive. One such offer I have seen offers a free school t-shirt or sweat shirt to each respondent of the form. That’s an offer that costs precious little, compared to the amount of money that comes in. Another school wrote in to say they are looking at offering the parent a one-off ‘voucher’ for £50 to be used against school trips/uniform if they are eligible and apply for FSM. A third school told me that “We give our new Reception children who qualify for free school meals a £20 voucher towards school uniform.“

Here’s another thought. “We are actively encouraging parents to call and enquire as to whether they are entitled to FSM by educating parents about the funding and how it is used.

“We have sent out letters, posted information on websites, invited parents in for 1 to 1 meetings (those who we know should be eligible) and encouraged them to call by being very open with how we use the funding; educating parents of the direct benefit to their child i.e. subsidising costs for educational trips, music lessons, 1:1 tuition, sports activities. We have also discussed Pupil Premium with all new parents and offered the use of the school phone to make calls to check eligibility.

I have found parents have been very responsive and eager once they are aware of the direct benefits to their children of the funding and the impact the loss of this funding will have.”

I am also aware that Somerset LA has put out a standard form for schools to use, and I suspect other LAs might be doing the same. If not, you could ask your LA to do so.

I also believe that talk about giving the school a bonus by completing the form is much more effective than talking about losing money.

Here is one letter I have seen… it was sent out attached to the form that had to be filled in.


From September 2014 xxx School will offer free school meals for all Infants aged pupils as part of the Universal Infant Free School Meal initiative put in place by the Department of Education (DFE).

Research has shown that healthy free school meals improve children’s learning and productivity, whilst saving you money in tough times.

Our school meals meet strict nutritional standards, and the quality and sustainability of our meals is regularly monitored.


Did you know that schools can receive additional funding for pupils who are eligible for free school meals PRE the UIFSM initiative? This funding is known as Pupil Premium.

It’s important to sign up even though school meals will become free in September, as registering can raise an extra £1300 for your child’s school from the DFE. This money can fund valuable support like extra learning, learning assistants or after school clubs.

Even if you don’t want your child to receive a free meal, we would encourage you to register so that the school receives as much funding as possible!


The information you provide in this form will be used by the school to assess, and if eligible, claim extra grant money from the Government to provide extra learning or to assess charges for school trips or after school clubs.

It is really important that you complete all the information asked for in this form to help make sure xxx Infants is as well funded as possible!


Here’s one from another school…


However we did include the following statement to try and ensure that parents do still apply for free school meals where necessary:

Please note that if you currently receive one of the following benefits, you will still need to complete the attached free school meal application form to ensure that you will remain eligible should the Government scheme be scrapped.

  1. Income support
  2. Pension Credit (Guaranteed Credit)
  3. Jobseekers Allowance (Income Based)
  4. Employment and Support Allowance (Income related)
  5. Child Tax Credit (where joint Annual Taxable Income – as assessed by HMRC – is £16190.00 or less)

Should the Government scheme end and you have failed to complete this form, you will have to start paying for school meals until an application is approved, this may take some time if lots of families apply at once.


My own thought on all this is to try and keep the letters really simple. You don’t want to mislead, but the simpler it is the more likely you will be to get replies.

Thank you to everyone who replied to me. I had so many replies that this time I was not able to reply to each individually. I’m really sorry about that – but it was indeed very helpful. The message time and again was, get in touch with the parents, and offer them a small simple incentive.
Tony Attwood
Director, School of Educational Management and Administration

Worries about loss of budget over free school meals

The loss of budget through the new free school meals arrangements is worrying everyone from infant schools to secondaries

Two issues came up as a result of my request for thoughts on the new approach to school meals from September. One relates to the issue of how the change in approach will cut school financing. The other relates to how the initiative will affect the school’s admin.

I will deal just with the funding issue first and return to the admin aspects in another email.

In relation to my post the most common response is summarised in this question:

I was wondering has any one got any good ideas how we can convince Parents/Carers to still apply for Free School Meals if they meet the criteria.

If you have, please do write in, and I will publish the answer here.

As for the losses as a result of this change, here’s one calculation kindly supplied by a reader:

The school could lose out on £6,394 per pupil per year whilst they are in the infant age range. We have 7 infant pupils entitled which does not sound much, but that is a loss of £44,758 per year. That is the cost of an experienced teacher, so where do we get the money from to retain that teacher?

What makes it worse, is that there is another part of the government formula that looks at pupils that have been entitled to free school meals at any time during the previous 6 years:

Imagine if a pupil was entitled to free meals at infant stage, but their circumstances change and they are no longer entitled to free meals after that stage.

There is no incentive for the parent to apply for free meals, so we never know about their previous entitlement.

So, we lose out for the next 6 years whilst that pupil is in school. That is another £1,300 per pupil per year lost each over their time in school. 

We have 36 pupils in this “6 year” window who are no longer entitled to free meals, but they still attract some funding. That is £1,300 each year x 36 pupils = £46,800 per year lost. Over 6 years, that is a loss of £280,800 to this school.

Indeed a number of SBMs, bursars and administrators from secondary schools have written in with their worries about what happens to them.

As I understand it, the solution is to get in touch with each relevant parent and ask the parent to apply for free school meals – and indeed to help the parent to do so in every way possible.

So my request for information today is this. If you have started to plan how you are asking parents to apply for free school meals under the new regime and you are willing to share your approach – please can you write in and help all your colleagues?

In one case I have been told of an LA that has advised schools to use different coloured free school meals application forms for Foundation/Ks1 children and to keep checking via newsletter etc for pupil premium children.

All information gratefully received. Please email and write SCHOOL MEALS in the subject line.

Tony Attwood

The blog for bursars and administrators