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Is your independent school cleaning as efficient as it could be

01 November 2023 Category: Educational Establishments Independent schools Schools, Academies and Trusts

Independent schools often like to be self-sufficient in ways that go beyond government input and curricula. Many also run their cleaning operation in-house, partly so that they can maintain control, and partly so they can save on VAT. 

However, what begins as a cost-savings regimen usually becomes something far more unwieldy – demanding much from these independent schools in terms of time, finance and covering unexpected gaps in cleaning provision.

We’ve worked with a number of independent schools in our 30-plus years as a specialist cleaning provider for the education sector – including in our continuing contracts with St Paul’s School for Boys, Thomas’s London Day Schools and Regent’s University London – and usually we are initially brought in to solve an urgent issue. 

Often by this point, the school has tried to deploy more and more labour to fix the issue, and inefficiencies have snowballed until it’s clear they need external help. This is a valid reason to bring us on board, but as a number of independent schools have discovered, there are many reasons to consider outsourcing to Nviro sooner.

The efficiency savings of outsourcing

Over the last 30 years, we’ve found there’s a science to making a cleaning team efficient – just as there’s a science to effective teaching. And for the same reasons you wouldn’t ask us to teach GCSE Latin, we wouldn’t expect a school to have the same level of cleaning team efficiency as a specialist cleaning provider. 

When it comes to running a cleaning team, efficiency might be an understated word. It’s not a case of just shaving off the time-to-clean here and there, and trying to reduce the seconds-to-sparkling from 90 to 70 with this sink and that set of windows. When you really optimise a cleaning team, it’s possible to do so by astronomical jumps – perhaps by up to half of your current budget.

How is that possible? Well, unlike other services like catering, where there’s significant costs in equipment and ingredients, 80% of cleaning costs are the cost of labour. And if you can achieve industry standards of productivity in how people clean, when they clean, and who is cleaning, you can dramatically impact your overall spend. 

Of course, this efficiency gain doesn’t need to be a cost cutting exercise. It can simply mean your cleaning team is able to get more done for the same spend, freeing up your office staff, payroll officers, health and safety professionals, your events team, and your caretakers, so they can work on areas where they bring the most value. A specialist cleaning provider can also help address non-routine cleaning tasks, so the school doesn’t need to source their own specialists or let an issue build up because they don’t know who to ask.

Will independent schools save on outsourcing if they pay VAT?

While a number of independent schools hold back on outsourcing out of habit, some will actively avoid it because their charitable status stops them claiming back on VAT.

If there’s an opportunity to save 25, 30, 40 or even 50 per cent on your spend by outsourcing cleaning, a 20 per cent VAT rate is almost a distraction. Once you achieve industry standards of productivity, it will in most cases mitigate any concerns around VAT.

Considering the political uncertainty around independent schools, too, there’s a chance that independent schools will be able to claim VAT in future. Once that happens, it’s likely we’ll see a mass migration to an outsourced model, but there’s no reason you can’t be ahead of the curve, taking advantage of the efficiency and savings it brings now. 

Will standards be the same if we outsource our cleaning?

There are reasons to be considered in your approach to outsourcing, since not every cleaning provider will work in the same way. In general, if a company’s focus is primarily on how much square footage they can clean for a low cost in the immediate future, there’s cause for scepticism. 

At Nviro, we know that playing a long game of higher standards works out better for everyone in the end. For instance, we know that when high-end facilities are kept in premium condition, there’s costs saved on deep cleaning later down the line. And having your facilities in prime condition all year round is going to net out well for the school’s reputation.

We also know that it’s not enough to make a place look clean. Hygiene is also a vital part of the puzzle, especially for boarding schools with communal areas, where a bug going around can quickly inflate the total days of lost learning for too many students – or even staff. 

While other schools might be happy for an English teacher to cover the occasional Latin lesson, you want to ensure your faculty is as healthy as possible so specialist subjects can always be taught by specialist educators. By communicating how we’re keeping people safe, we can also enable everyone to feel safe too, which is a foundational part of helping students to focus.

Lastly, we are aware that events are a critical aspect of school life in the independent education sector. For this reason, we put systems and lines of communication in place, integrating our teams with yours to a high degree, so that when your next event rolls around, every cleaning task that needs to be done is already done to a high standard. 

To get a quick measure of whether your school is currently clean, hygienic and safe for all building users, try our six-minute thriving spaces audit.

How we solve HR problems while taking care of your people 

Perhaps the most acute pains of running a cleaning operation in-house are the pains of HR and recruitment. Outsourcing to the right cleaning partner is a way to enable your office team to sidestep the task of taming the HR monster while trusting it will land in reliable hands.

This is exactly what Duke’s Academy experienced when they chose Nviro as a cleaning partner. Significant issues with staff absences and productivity were resolved, all while maintaining great relations with the cleaners and their union. The Academy could also breathe easy knowing we were looking after and rewarding their former colleagues in a way that could only be thought of as an upgrade.

This is a significantly better measure to take than the halfway house of working with recruitment agencies, for instance. These companies can help resupply talent when there’s a high turnover of staff, but they usually aren’t set up to help with high safeguarding requirements or to supply consistent teams that want to stay for the long term. 

Meanwhile with Nviro, not only do you get new hires fast with all safeguarding taken care of to the highest industry standard, you likely won’t need as many new hires because colleagues working for Nviro are more likely to love their work and their benefits, and they tend to stick around.

So if you choose to work with us, you know that any TUPE transfer is going to result not only in industry leading standards and more productive cleaning teams, your cleaning teams are also going to be glad for the change. 

If you’d like to learn more about how Nviro can partner with you to create financial and operational efficiencies in your school, don’t hesitate to get in touch. 

As a specialist cleaner in educational settings, Nviro provides clean, hygienic and safe environments in universities, colleges and schools. Read our blog about ‘Nviro and the mobilisation process’.

Nviro is a leading cleaning company specialising in education and the independent school sector. Visit our independent school page and find out how we support the unique challenges in this sector.