Lorraine Hill, Associate practitioner for NASBM, shares her advice on how schools can ensure that their ongoing expenditure is bringing value for pupils and the school.
Every year all schools set their budgets, but the challenge remains that for the 12 months that follow, it’s ever more important to be scrutinising exactly how you can plan your budget more effectively.
It’s why it is important to continually review your forecasting against your budget and be prepared to adapt if things change. In the past, a budget might have been set for a certain amount of money and as long as it wasn’t overspent, that might have been considered acceptable. But in this day and age, schools have to demonstrate the impact of that spend and ensure it’s bringing value for pupils and the school.
There are many ways that schools can plan their budgets more effectively and I wanted to take this opportunity to highlight a few of these.
Aligning with your school improvement plan
One useful thing you should do when planning your budget is align it with your school improvement plan. By linking your budget setting with the school improvement plan, you will have a clear idea of your school’s goals, helping you to ensure you have the resources in place to drive improvement and maintain high standards of education.
When aligning with your school improvement plan, you may want to consider how you can raise standards and the quality of education in your school, the school’s current financial position, what your spending priorities are and what you expect your budget to look like over the next 12 months.
Challenging every area
As a school, it’s important that each area of your budget, including departments and different faculties, is challenged. Departments should be able to provide evidence of the impact that their spending is going to have on pupils. This could include analysing the impact that an overseas school trip is going to have on a child’s language skills, or evidencing the impact your pupil premium spend has had on a pupil’s progress.
It’s also important to be collaborating with other schools, educational facilities and across departments internally. You can do a lot of collaboration between departments, but I don’t think it has necessarily been taken onboard in schools. The advantage is that it allows you to review staffing structures and challenge them, and find out if they are supporting the school’s strategic plan.
Schools need to be looking at the impact and then measuring the value of this on the pupils. If it is not what you want to be delivering, then you need to make sure you can change it.
Planning for unplanned expenditure
Unplanned expenditure is certainly not a phrase schools like to hear and to a certain extent, I don’t think you can be prepared for it. Budgets are so tight in a lot of areas, which means you have to plan your budget the best you can for what you want to be delivering. Therefore, if items do come up that are unplanned, you have to be able to prioritise.
Health and safety expenditure is always the biggest issue for me and what I would call the most justified of unplanned expenditure. The best way to tackle it is to review unplanned expenditure on a case by case basis, because what is deemed essential by one member of staff, may not be as essential when the whole picture is looked at. Understandably, there are things that you can’t budget for and you just have to accept that, and work out where else in your budget you can offset this, but I do think that you can negate quite a lot of unplanned expenditure if it’s challenged properly.
Coping with the decline in school funding
With reports that school funding is expected to decline, it will leave schools expecting an adverse impact in certain areas. One area that you simply can’t afford to drop is school performance, which may result in extra-curricular activities and the wider curricular subjects being at risk.
Another area that will have an impact on schools is the introduction of new curricula and assessment models over the next two years. As a school, I would advise reviewing what is required, challenging the leaders in those particular areas and looking at how they can utilise existing resources.
Understanding your individual school needs
Ultimately, we are always going to have to cope with tightened budgets and close scrutiny on our spending, so it’s important that school business managers are aligning budgeting with their school improvement plan, challenging all areas of expenditure and planning as best as possible for the unplanned expenditure.
The biggest factor is understanding what it is you need and what you currently have available at your school that you can utilise. Perhaps you could share resources or look at ways to deliver the curriculum more creatively? You might even be able to find alternative ways of delivering what is needed.
Have you been using any innovative ways to plan your school budget effectively? Please leave your thoughts below.