I haven’t been active on here for a while – apologies for that. I’ve been pretty busy working with a colleague Nikola Flint, who’s a Director of Resources in a large secondary school, to set up School Financial Success. It’s a joint venture we’ve set up, to provide support, advice and guidance on school funding to current and aspiring school leaders, including headteachers, senior and middle leaders, SBMs, and governors. From now on I will share some of the posts from our School Financial Success website on here as well as providing some separate commentaries from the local authority perspective.
The issue that has been exercising me lately is why school funding has such a low profile in leadership qualifications and training. Too often, when someone takes up their first headship, they haven’t had a thorough preparation for taking responsibility for a multi-million pound budget. I was doing some training today on medium term financial planning and none of the headteachers in the room felt they had had appropriate training and support to help them take on that responsibility. If heads don’t feel confident, they are less likely to involve and educate middle leaders to prepare them for headship.
The picture that is painted is of a haphazard sort of induction, of headteachers learning to manage the school’s finances on the job, trying to juggle the budget along with all the other pressures of improving results, surviving Ofsted, keeping children safe, developing staff, and a hundred and one other expectations. What’s worse is that today’s headteachers are facing a period of potential reductions in resources, or at the very least needing to somehow absorb unfunded cost pressures. Many of them won’t have experienced this before. Strategic financial leadership will be an important role, needing particular skills.
Strategic financial leadership is about creating a vision for how the resources available to your school will be used to achieve your aims in the longer term, and implementing that vision in a way that creates the conditions for sustainable improvement. It’s important to link your budget plans with school improvement, curriculum, and staffing plans, as a suite of planning documents, forming a blueprint to drive the school forward.
It also involves coordinating all the strands of value for money, eliminating waste, maximising efficiency and ensuring that spending is targeted on the activities that have the greatest impact on outcomes.
This is not just about how much money you get; it’s about what you do with it. A school can have outstanding results, but if they are built on small class sizes and high teaching costs that are causing a massive overspend, it is extremely unlikely that standards can be sustained in the long term. At some point a recovery plan has to be put into action, and spending will have to be reduced to a sustainable level.
But the financial aspect of leadership isn’t the sole preserve of the headteacher. It needs a team effort across the whole school, each playing their part to create a unified approach, moving in the same direction.
The difficulty in trying to achieve this sort of coordinated planning is the lack of information. It’s a long time since we had multi-year funding allocations, and the uncertainty over the National Funding Formula (NFF) is causing real concern. Understandably, heads feel out of control.
As we wait for news of whether the new Secretary of State will press the button on the second consultation on the National Funding Formula (not that she has much time to do it, certainly not if there’s any wish to get responses from schools), we’ve published our eBook and online course, Secure a Sustainable Budget. We aim to show schools how to develop a range of potential funding scenarios to stimulate a debate with staff and governors about how they would achieve budget savings if funding were reduced. This will help schools feel that they can regain a measure of control.
The eBook comes with a comprehensive set of tools to help you construct funding scenarios based on a best, middle and worst case picture of your per pupil funding and roll projections. The basis of the methodology is that the Minimum Funding Guarantee (MFG) calculation can be used to identify the lowest possible per pupil funding that you can receive.
We provide a tool to calculate the affordable level of teaching staff, and templates to produce a Financial Sustainability Plan over a five-year period; the tools form a set of appendices to the plan. . As more information becomes available, you can amend various elements within the suite of tools – it’s a dynamic process.
You can find out more at www.schoolfinancialsuccess.com, and by clicking on the Feature Book image and clicking View Details on the book page, you can download the first part of the book to see what it contains. It’s on a special introductory offer until 30th September.
I’d like to know what topics you are interested in from the world of school finance – please get in touch if you have any views.