Two years ago, after setting the budget, I gave a presentation to our teaching team to help them understand the costs involved in running a school.
I started by showing them what our total income was from the local authority (we are a foundation school). Pound signs shone in their eyes as they saw the seven-figure sum that we would be receiving. You could see them mentally planning what exciting things they were going to be doing in their classrooms and what resources they could buy.
Then I showed them our staffing costs.
It might have come as a shock to them, but most senior leaders will know that staffing is by far the largest area of expenditure, usually around 80 per cent of your total spend. Go over this and your budget is likely to be unsustainable.
Balancing the books
There is a fine line to walk between making sure you have sufficient staff to run the school successfully and having so many that you have to make cuts in other areas.
As a special school for children with profound, severe and complex needs, our staffing requirements are high. Approximately 50 per cent of our children are autistic and need high levels of support. We have 305 children and just short of 240 staff.
How to keep your staff budget under control
Here are three things you should do before you budget for staff:
1. Look at your school development plan and your recovery plan
Usually, you would look at your plan for the next 12 months and base your staffing on that. This year, we also need to consider our recovery plan and how the Covid catch-up funding can help.
You should already have a costed plan showing how you are going to use your Covid catch-up funding, and no doubt this will include staffing. Make sure you have included this in your staffing budget as the expenditure will still need to be shown under your staffing codes.
2. Look at your potential student numbers
I think even this is tricky this year. We have to submit our budget to the local authority by the end of May, when, in fact, we won’t know our numbers for certain until September, and even then they are changeable.
We will meet next week to discuss our plans for September, how many year Reception children we believe we will get, and how many will be leaving. We also need to consider how many may come to us at secondary transfer.
We can then gauge how many classes we will need and how many staff that will take. To be frank, this stage really is an educated guess for us. Be sure to plan your staffing directly around your pupil numbers.
3. Look at ways to reduce absence
Something we have very recently invested in is absence management software. We have a history of using agency staff and this has been costly for the past few years. I am hoping that by better monitoring staff absence, we will keep absence levels lower, which will mean lower agency costs and better utilised staffing budgets.
I think, as we come out of this pandemic, making sure that we support our staff with their physical and mental health will be key. We invest in a staff care package, which gives them access to counselling sessions and occupational health support, and I feel that this year we will need to utilise this more and more to help our staff team recover from the past 12 months.
Tina Button is school business manager at The Wyvern School in Ashford, Kent