Chris Gill from CIPFA explains how their 6th Form Management Team Games gives students a taste of the challenges of running a public sector body and continues to attract so many colleges and sixth forms.

How many school sixth forms and colleges study public sector finance as part of their A Level courses and how much time is devoted to that area?  Is it anything like the 40% that public sector spending represents as a proportion of the National GDP?

In 2004 the Midlands Region of the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA) decided to try and stimulate more interest in public sector finances within the Post 16 education cohort, by reviving the 6th Form Management Games that it had previously run on one or two occasions. Whilst the main intent has always been to provide an insight into the issues facing public sector organisations, and particularly those of a financial nature, it has also been recognised that the day of the event can be an excellent introduction to the world of work and a way of developing and strengthening teamwork, leadership, management and organisational skills amongst those students who have the opportunity to take part.

In an environment, where they are supported by a member of the CIPFA volunteer team in a mentoring capacity, teams of students explore the challenges of managing under time pressure with uncertain outcomes, along the way developing a range of team and individual skills. As ever, what students gain from the day will largely depend on how much each individual is prepared to invest. Nowadays though it’s a serious business for the participating students, who grasp the challenge in their endeavour to bring about a win for their team. Reflection and learning often come later, but there is plenty to be had and the feedback is reassuringly good, arguably because of its practical, hands on approach.

The interactive nature of the games starts in advance of the students’ arrival on the day, with teams briefed ahead, on a fictional, but realistic, public sector organisation.  The organisation in question, under their management and leadership for the day, may be a health body, a local authority, a housing organisation or even a University. Those candidates who study the material before the event will be better informed and potentially have the advantage over rival team members on the day.  With each team comprising seven students as the management team of the organisation, the group must also decide which of the Director level roles they will take on, and of course there can only be one Chief Executive!

On the day, students are welcomed, further briefing soon follows and into the Game they go, with immediate pressure to assimilate as much as they can and to start taking action and making decisions to prepare a report before lunchtime.  As in real life, only limited resources are available to each organisation, through which the team need to meet more competing priorities than can be afforded, therefore wise decisions must be taken.  Fully immersed in their organisation’s context and goals, the students assume leadership responsibility, with the decision on how they approach the task entirely down to each team, or often, to one or two strong individuals who may take the lead! The teams are informed that everything needed is in the information provided but are also encouraged to make any necessary and reasonable assumptions, provided they can defend them under scrutiny.

Just as they are settling in to their task, their planning and thought patterns are interrupted as an additional event arises or task is introduced, continuing throughout the day to reflect the reality of typical work experience.  Each of the team will have a role, with correspondence to deal with from a potential partner, a visit or two from people who are not so keen on some of the things the team might be doing, a press release to be drafted in response to a situation…

It is all a reflection of working life, although it’s intensity can be tough, so those who are marking the students’ considerable efforts are not so much looking for the ‘right’ answers, but the way students deal with each situation. The assessors mark performance by the way the team handles problems, the relevance of answers, the approach taken to the tasks in hand and the quality and content of written and oral reports.

After a well-earned lunch, students come back to find that the task has changed, sometimes the resources have been cut, sometimes they have increased, and a bid must be prepared, or perhaps the there is a change in the rules from the morning session!  Off they go again, this time perhaps working towards a PowerPoint presentation where they will have to present and potentially defend their case to the body that makes the final decisions.

And what of the students’ experiences? Many flourish in the situation, all gain from the day.  Participating sixth form schools and colleges will often review the experience after the event, helping students reflect on what has happened and how it may have helped them develop.  For all students it raises an awareness of the public sector and an insight into the wider financial environment, many value the experience of ‘work’ and find this the valuable element along with access to their volunteer mentor through whom they will learn about their professional job role and work experiences.  Students on Business Studies courses can particularly benefit from involvement, however the event is open to any students studying in, or heading to, Years 12 or 13 and who are keen to develop as individuals – after all, financial management in the public sector has many transferable skills.

The CIPFA Midlands Sixth Form Management Games continue to go from strength to strength. With almost 70 separate games having been staged across the region, and more than 100 sixth forms and colleges being involved, over 300 teams have experienced the Games college students have experienced a taster of working life and public sector financial management through the Games within the Midlands. Since 2012, games have also been running in the CIPFA North East region based around Newcastle and Sunderland, with encouragement and support offered by the founding team to CIPFA’s other volunteer-led regions who are thinking of offering the programme. The South East and North West may not be far off in their plans to offer regional Games, but the availability of volunteers is a pre-requisite for success.

As the world’s only professional accountancy body to specialise in public services, CIPFA is the professional body for people in public finance. Their 14,000 members work throughout the public services, in national audit agencies, in major accountancy firms, and in other bodies where public money needs to be effectively and efficiently managed.

CIPFA’s members work, often at the most senior levels, in public service bodies, in the national audit agencies and major accountancy firms, but regularly give up their time to support the games, such is their passion for this work.

To register your interest in the Midlands games please contact the co-ordinating team at 6thforms@cipfa.org.

If you’re interested in finding out further information on CIPFA regions outside of the Midlands, details are available on the CIPFA website: www.cipfa.org/regions