It’s not just school leaders who should be worried about school budgets. Large parts of the profession are now familiar with the need to deliver ‘efficiencies’ and make ‘cost savings’, with the result that schools are now working collaboratively by sharing resources, getting more from their contracts and utilising the skills of colleagues across different settings. These aren’t necessarily new ideas, but it’s vital that everyone understands how important they are.
Funding for schools has been stuck below inflation for years. It’s an issue that’s hit headlines throughout the past year, inspired political marches and given rise to campaigning websites such as schoolcuts.org.uk, highlighting the effect that the real term cuts have had on education budgets.
The government’s recent announcement of a revised national funding formula might mark a new change in direction – but it’s still been a pretty bleak picture for education finance over the past few years, and the effects are very much being felt right now.
Creating a culture of sensible buying and resource use is difficult in any organisation, but this is crucial if our schools are to survive.
Some staff may see the establishment of new procurement systems, reduced spending and efficiency improvements as additional workload burdens and barriers to learning, but these ‘barriers’ are ultimately what’s needed if we’re to keep the books under control. If we don’t, it could have a far-reaching impact on generations of learners.
That’s why it’s important to give your staff a better understanding of your school’s financial context. Explaining the reasons behind some of your key financial decisions can help to bring them on board, and in some cases even persuade them to suggest some further budgeting ideas and strategies, thus lightening the load.
Ask them to consider the following points:
1. Are their expectations realistic?
You should have a sense of where the school’s projects and resources sit in relation to your 3-year school development plan, and be able to spot when your staff’s priories don’t line up what the SDP proposes. Before they ask for a new piece of equipment and take offence at someone telling them no, try approaching them first and asking them to consider if there are any alternatives.
2. Be resourceful
Does that teaching colleague really need to purchase 60 workbooks for that particular topic, or can the pupils’ work be submitted online? Have they checked the school’s stock audit to see if there’s an existing data logger they can use, rather than ask for a new one? Do they properly switch off that school projector that otherwise usually remains on? These are small things, but they add up to long-term gains – after all, a projector will have a much longer working life if it’s cared for…
3. Can you budget responsibly?
Do your subject and phase leaders, SENCos and other staff have any control over own budgets? If so, they’ll have an increased awareness of how budgets are allocated, know what it’s like to have to say ‘no’ and be sensitive to the impact that budgets can have on learning outcomes.
Encourage regular conversations between teaching staff, business managers and/or SLT about the school’s financial position and where improvements could be made. A culture of sensible budgeting and resource use in schools is needed now more than ever, and that’s everyone’s job – or else one day the finances might not be in place to support yours…