Nikola Flint from School Financial Success is Director of Corporate Services in a large secondary school, leading on all aspects of school organisation, with a background in accountancy and sixteen years' experience in the school management profession.
September is always a busy and exciting time in schools, as the new year begins and most staff are feeling refreshed after a summer holiday. For academies, it is also the start of the financial year and for all School Business Leaders (SBLs) the autumn term brings an intensity that can feel quite overwhelming as the term powers on. So how can you keep on top of your game, benefit your school and care for yourself all at the same time?
Get organised and make an appointment
Whether it’s post-it notes, to do lists or the latest technology, whatever works for you, now is the time to get organised. Heavy workloads can easily become overwhelming, so be prepared to prioritise, delegate and ask for support. Make an appointment with yourself, by blocking out time in your diary for important strategic work. Some responsive firefighting is inevitable, but that carefully-crafted To Do list may go untouched for weeks if we are not clever in your time management.
Set the tone
Financial leadership is about role-modelling the behaviours you want to see in others. Do all staff, particularly finance staff, budget holders and senior leaders know what is expected of them? Do they have an awareness of the school’s financial position and any challenges it faces? Demonstrate the behaviours you seek through your own language and actions, and embed a culture of value for money through awareness, understanding and ownership of financial responsibility.
Start and continue your budget review
Take a look at our blog post ‘Leading a School Budget Review’ . All schools need to undertake a school budget review. Have you started yours? If you are the review leader, you will need to provide the strategic direction but may also need to call on support from those around you. If another senior leader is driving it forward, be prepared to provide information and offer support.
Link all your plans
Intelligent financial planning is about making sure your budget, school development plan (SDP), staffing plan and curriculum plan all link together, providing a blueprint for school improvement. This is an ongoing process throughout the year. In September, ensure the finalised SDP is fully costed and links logically to the budget, with allocated resources for each priority area.
Schools Forums are a great way to stay informed about your local context, whether as an observer or an appointed member. If you participate in your Schools Forum as a member, you are in a strong position to direct questions. Even as an observer, you will see and hear modelling information first hand, gain a deeper insight into local circumstances and get an indication of what your school’s future funding may look like. You can also keep up to date on the national context via social media and relevant news items.
Start gathering information early for the following year’s budget, i.e. 2019/20. Watch out for school forum decisions, including the LA’s budget strategy, as they may affect your funding for future years, depending on funding reform decisions.
Understand your school context and check your funding
Make sure you have a good understanding of your school context including pupil numbers, pupil and staffing profiles, local and historic issues and collaborative arrangements. Your October census is used as the basis for school funding for the following year, so make sure it is accurate and use it for an early estimate of your available resources. Check your final allocations against this and make a note of any assumptions that have proved to be inaccurate, so you can improve next time.
If you have a nursery, your early years funding will be adjusted for the termly headcount, so keep an eye on participation levels.
Your forward financial planning should be revisited throughout the year to ensure it is updated as information changes. Academies will have submitted 3-year budget plans by the end of July; some LAs also require them for LA maintained schools. Don’t shelve your plan for a year. Keep it as a live working document and use it to inform strategic planning and decision making. Your multi-year budget plan may also indicate what the objective of your budget review should be.
Network, support, collaborate, improve
Take opportunities to network with other school business leaders (try #sbltwitter). It can sometimes feel like a lonely profession, even though you are seldom left alone! Learn from other colleagues, share your experiences so others can learn from you, and work together for mutual benefit, in the interest of improving all schools and enhance the chances of success for all young people.
Take care of yourself
We spend a lot of time thinking about staff well-being, to make our schools happy and positive places to work and learn. But how often do we stop to take care of ourselves? Intense workload coupled with significant pressure and responsibility can lead to burnout, no matter how invincible you may think you are! Little things make a big difference: take a lunch break if you don’t usually, take a walk outside (try a ‘walk and talk’ as an alternative to an office meeting) and talk with your Headteacher or appropriate colleagues to support your own well-being.
Remember, your professional development is important to you and your school. Have conversations with your Headteacher to ensure this is prioritised alongside the development of other staff. With the financial challenges ahead, you need to maximise your skills to give your school the best chance of success.
Here's to a successful and productive year ahead!