Are your school’s staff and SLT involved in budget-setting? Or is that something carried out in an office with the door shut and outcomes kept confidential between the SBM and headteacher?
At a time when school funding is being squeezed, leading to cuts in individual budgets, senior staff can’t afford to make financial decisions in isolation which could result in misunderstanding and resentment amongst school staff. Sharing your budget setting with staff will help create a culture of inclusiveness, joint decision-making and raise awareness of the school’s financial position.
Frustration and resentment
It’s a good idea to meet with budgetholders. The SBM should identify any contracts or SLAs coming out of specific budgets, while the budget-holders themselves should bring a list of their plans and priorities for the coming financial year. Things like magazine and website subscriptions can sometimes get overlooked, so it’s important for the SBM to ensure that everything usually paid for is included.
These meetings will be an opportunity for the budget-holder to present his or her plans for the forthcoming year to the SBM and headteacher, so that they can understand what the priorities for the subject area are going to be. For example, the ICT co-ordinator might tell you they want to purchase new iPads for every class. The SBM’s initial reaction to that could well be along the lines of, “Well, we can’t afford that so scrap it” – but actually, there may be a valid reason for it. Perhaps an important curriculum app doesn’t work on the iPad models the school currently has, or a number of devices are broken through wear and tear.
A lesson for SBMs here is to not just instinctively say ‘no’, but instead listen and understand why items are being requested. If, for whatever reason, the items can’t be justified because they’re a luxury rather than a necessity, then budget-holders need to understand why a commitment can’t be made for it. If people aren’t told, they won’t understand – which can in turn lead to confusion, frustration and resentment.
Communication is key
Often, senior leaders will feel that they don’t want to share the burden of reduced budgets and high spend with staff. Sometimes that can be because they don’t want staff worrying about things they have no control over – yet sharing the burden can in fact help immensely. Staff members will understand more fully why their requests for orders are being refused, and might even feel prompted to come up with some good fundraising ideas and become more mindful about wastage.
Your budget setting should further involve your admin team and site manager. They might be able to come up with some ideas for saving money in their cost centres through pursuing alternative options – but similarly, if they don’t know, they can’t help.
Communication is key to everything that happens in school, and it doesn’t stop at financial management. Whatever your financial situation looks like, remember that the school is a team; sharing information with the rest of the staff should lead to better understanding, increased respect, greater awareness of wastage and less complacency.
Of course, SBMs and heads have a duty of confidentiality, but they shouldn’t shield staff from the truth. Instead, they ought to embrace the help and support that their team might be able to offer.
Caroline Collins is head of school business strategy and resources at Miles Coverdale Primary School.