Four foolproof ways to boost your school budget

With not enough money to run his school properly, Colin Dowland has been forced to come up with a cunning plan

Colin Dowland

A masked robber, crowbarring open a door

My school budget is so bad that we’ve had to connect the hamster’s wheel in Year 3 to a generator to help reduce the electricity bill. And in the school safe, there’s nothing but the emergency special biscuits (in case Ofsted turns up unexpectedly), four dusty cans of gin and tonic and a signed photo of Michael Rosen.

So, as the new financial year begins, despite all the talk at the Department for Education, I still haven’t enough money to run my school properly. I’ve cut everything to the bone multiple times, we now have skeletal staffing levels and I still can’t balance next year’s budget.

The biggest cost saving I could make would be for me to retire very early. It’s tempting.

Budget: Four foolproof ways to boost your school funds

Consequently, in my budget recovery plan for the coming year, I have had to find four foolproof ways that I can generate more income and lead the school to financial sustainability. Here they are, in case you want to make use of them, too.

1. Take a punt with your sports premium funding

Go down to your local newsagent and buy a copy of The Racing Post. Study the race listings carefully. I suggest staking your entire sports premium funding, since you would effectively be introducing a new sport to broaden the curriculum. 

As an added bonus, it would encourage more sports participation from the least active in the school (the staff). And you absolutely do not need any more sodding tennis balls in the PE cupboard.  

My two top tips for the upcoming flat season – both complete bankers:

Alternatively, close your eyes, point your finger and make a decision blindly – a bit like the government deciding on Covid safety advice for schools.

2. Be cash focused with your photocopying

First, order some A4 thermoplastic polymer sheets. You can buy a box of 50 on eBay for £85. That’s roughly the same amount as one child’s catch-up funding for the year, so, really, not much money at all. 

Pop the sheets into the photocopier drawer, place a variety of high-value banknotes into the feeder, select “two-sided” and “colour” modes (I know you have been told by the office never to use colour, but this is an investment opportunity). Then simply press “start”, stand back and, as the collection tray fills up, watch your budget troubles ebb away before your eyes.

3. Turn your school improvement plan into a screenplay

Arrange some movie nights with your senior leadership team (SLT), and watch Money Heist, Ocean’s Eleven and The Italian Job (original Michael Caine version, obviously). Ply the team with lots of alcohol and, as you watch, note the key movie plot points on a large whiteboard. 

At the next SLT meeting, use your notes to refocus your 2021-22 school improvement plan, the central strand of which will be an elaborate bank heist or art robbery, including masks (full face, rather than Covid), assumed names (suggest Mr Churchill, Ms Austen, Mr Turner and Mr Turing, as on the bank notes) and rock-solid alibis (“I was teaching in class at the time” gets you out of most things.) 

4. Invite influential special visitors into the school

Invite the education secretary and the chancellor of the exchequer to your school for a discussion about school finance. Over a cup of instant coffee and low-quality biscuits (resist the temptation to use the emergency Ofsted special biscuits), go through the school’s budget line by line, so they can see what savage cuts you have made and how DfE funding affects an actual school with actual staff and actual pupils. 

Next, give them a tour of the school. Be sure to point out the ageing, crumbling asbestos ceiling, which would have been sorted if the school had enough money. Make sure also to show them the empty cupboards where the curriculum resources used to be, back when you could afford such luxuries. 

Sit the education secretary next to Kenny in Year 5 for an hour, so that he can see first-hand that Kenny’s autism, ADHD and difficulties with learning do require an adult to be with him every minute of the day, and that his education and health care plan, which funds just about half a day's worth of support, simply isn’t enough. 

Meanwhile, with the chancellor, go through the calendar of weekend and evening school lettings. Also show him the impressive amount of money that the PTA raises each year and inform him that, without both of these additional sources of income, the school would be completely bankrupt.

And, before they leave, charge them both for the cost of the instant coffee and low-quality biscuits – because if your school is anything like mine, you won’t have enough money to buy more food for the Year 3 hamster.  

Colin Dowland is a primary headteacher in North London. He tweets as @colindowland

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