As a headteacher, saying ‘no’ to people will be a regular occurrence. More often than not, it’s straightforward – but when it comes to budget requests, feelings can become conflicted when you know you’d happily say yes to something, if only you had the money for it.
Everyone working in education knows that funding is dire, but there are some ways in which you can mitigate the impact on your staff of those situations where budget constraints have forced you into having to say ‘no’.
1. Don’t be bounced into decisions
It’s easy to find yourself on the automated ‘no’ train. If a teaching colleague catches you at a bad moment, when you’re unable to take in the facts or are in need of more information, then say so. Alternatively, refer the member of staff to your SBM to talk it through with them in more detail before formally submitting their request.
2. Consult your SBM
If you want to make sound expenditure decisions, you need to make sure you have the latest information to hand – especially if it’s a budget request you’d like to facilitate. Your SBM can assist you in looking at patterns of expenditure, identifying funding priorities and perhaps cheaper alternatives.
3. Keep a long term view
Though you might have to say ‘no’ today, the financial picture will continue to shift throughout the year. Keep a list of those received budget requests that you that you can’t quite afford right now and review them each month with your SBM. What isn’t affordable today may well be in the future.
4. Provide an explanation
Saying ‘no’ and leaving things there can result in staff feeling they haven’t been properly heard. If, on the other hand, you provide an explanation as to why you’ve had to say no, your staff will feel that they’ve been listened to and that there’s a clear reasoning behind your decision. If it’s a budget request you’d like to support but simply can’t, then make this clear. Say something positive about their idea, and where possible, offer some advice on how they can move forward.
5. Educate your staff
The greater your staff’s understanding of the school’s financial picture, the more mindful they’ll be when making budget requests. Provide updates at appropriate meetings and encourage senior and middle leaders to regularly work with your SBM on their allocated budgets. That way, when you do you have to say ‘no’, the decision will come as less of a shock, and the process of explaining it will be more straightforward.
6. Be firm
If you’ve had to decline a budget request, explained your reasons why and you’re comfortable with the decision, it may be that a member of staff still continues to argue their case. Don’t be tempted to back down – if you have to say ‘no’ more than once, do so and conclude the discussion politely and firmly.
Having to say ‘no’ when you’d like to say ‘yes’ isn’t easy, but being honest and transparent with your staff will create a positive financial culture in your school in the long run.
Laura Williams is a former MAT chief operations officer and school business manager, and the founder of LJ Business Consultancy.