On the conference circuit

There are lots of conferences on at the moment, as everyone tries to get to grips with the National Funding Formula (NFF) proposals. What will the impact be, and how can schools achieve a sustainable budget when they are facing cost pressures of around 8% between now and 2020, in addition to the redistribution of funding from the reforms?

I spoke at the EdExec Live conference at Manchester Airport on 18th January, on ‘Navigating Budgetary Turbulence’. For someone who loves holidays as much as I do, it’s not easy going to an airport without getting on a plane! The storm clouds are indeed gathering, and to navigate through it all you need to regain some control. No one is going to provide multi-year allocations to schools – decisions on the NFF won’t be taken until this summer, and the actual values for 2018/19 will largely depend on the October 2017 census and whatever decisions the LA takes in the last local formula before DfE fund schools directly from 2019/20. Then 2020 brings a General Election and a new Spending Review period, so literally anything could happen.

So I guided the audience of School Business Managers through a way of working out best, middle and worst case scenarios for their future funding, by combining per pupil funding estimates with predictions of rolls. It’s the approach I’ve taken in developing a set of tools and co-writing an eBook with my business partner Nikola Flint for our publishing enterprise School Financial Success. We provide an end to end process for schools to create funding scenarios as the basis for a fundamental budget review, resulting in a Financial Sustainability Plan. The session was well-received, and we had a good response in terms of new customers for the book and online course straight afterwards. Take a look at https://schoolfinancialsuccess.com/books/ where you can download a preview of the book.

My next conference is for Forum Education in Leeds on Monday 6th February, a Leadership Seminar focusing on financial health & efficiency. I’m giving the keynote session, a national funding policy update where I will explore the key features and issues in the Stage 2 consultation. I will explain what it all means for schools, and share my thoughts on how a strategic response focusing on financial leadership will raise awareness among senior leaders and governors of the best way to handle the real terms cuts. This conference is being repeated on March 27th in London.

February 23rd will see me leading a workshop at the National Fair Funding Conference, guiding local authority finance leads on how to support schools in financial difficulty. By the time final decisions are taken on factor values in the NFF, it could be too late for schools to react to funding reductions and cost pressures. Not only could this pose a risk to standards, but LAs may be affected too: if a failing school is forced to become a sponsored academy, the LA has to write off any deficit.

I will be suggesting a structure for LAs to support schools already in financial difficulty, but on the basis that prevention is better than cure, I will also share practical suggestions for preventative measures. With a clear strategy for savings or investment depending on the outcome of the NFF, schools can take prompt action to secure a sustainable budget and achieve better outcomes for children.

I really hope that everyone will take the time to respond to the Stage 2 consultation, for Schools and High Needs elements. Last time, over 6000 responses were submitted for the Schools Block consultation, but only 1,000 for High Needs. The proposals for SEND funding could have a significant impact on mainstream schools because they are unlikely to reflect the increase in needs that many areas are experiencing, so please take the time to submit a response on the High Needs document.

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