As schools command ever less spending power, school leaders inevitably find themselves in the position of having to reduce expenditure on resources and supplies.
Many teachers have consequently found that resources they’d like to make available to children in their class simply can’t be funded. What impact does this have? Teachers are increasingly putting their hands in their pockets and self-funding numerous items, preferring that over seeing their classes go without.
As a school leader, how can you therefore be sure as to what exactly your staff are paying for? Over the course of multiple responses I received online, teachers cited regularly spending amounts ranging from £10 to £100 per month on supplementing their schools’ budgets. More commonly purchased items include cooking and science resources, books, spare PE kits and classroom furniture.
The spending teachers feel compelled to make increases dramatically when changing year group or preparing to implement a new curriculum. These are times when they can no longer rely on the stock of resources they’ve acquired over previous years, and are often facing the prospect of starting again from scratch.
Teachers in this position should be provided with clear expectations, budget guidelines and easy reimbursement methods. That way, they’ll make more informed decisions around what they plan to teach and the possibility of them claiming back funds for items they purchase.
Subscription-based planning and resource sites can save teachers time, but many are in the habit of spending upwards of £10 per month to access them. I’ve heard one teacher who uses such facilities justify their expenditure on the basis of the time they’ve saved: “I would rather pay for a subscription and have more time with my family at the weekend.”
This is a common theme that emerged during my research. If you know that your staff subscribe to resource sites, and are aware of one being especially popular, it may be worth considering whether a school subscription be viable.
Treats and gifts
These are those ‘added extras’ that many teachers lay on for their classes – popcorn and a movie for excellent behaviour, or end of term presents as they move on to another class. Does your school have a policy regarding these types of purchases? If not, consider drafting one. Should one teacher buy gifts for their class without fail, it may place undue pressure on others to follow suit.
If a situation then arises whereby some decide to opt out of this altogether, there’s the risk of inequity setting in across the school.
Given current budgetary challenges, school leaders could be partly forgiven for failing to recognise problematic spending on the part of their colleagues, but it’s not possible to appreciate the full extent of the issue without investigating it further.
As teacher Ruth McElroy recently commented to me online, “I’ve definitely spent thousands, and it’s very rare that there’s an offer to repay anything. We’re discouraged from doing this, but only in words. If the resources aren’t there, what are we supposed to do?”
An audit of staff spending can open up some useful dialogue with teaching colleagues, many of whom may be feeling increasingly pressured and resentful at having to plug budgetary gaps with their own funds. The situation is neatly summed up by teacher Sarah Robertshaw – “I’ve increasingly come to the view that if we continue providing resources we need out of our own money, the difficulties caused by school budget cuts will continue to be hidden.”
It’s worth carefully considering how we approach the resourcing of our classrooms. After all, in what other sectors are frontline staff expected to pay for items necessary to deliver their core service?
Lucy Starbuck Braidley is a primary school teacher and subject leader for English and PE