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Sterling work

Jane Martin explains how to get the most for your school budget pounds

It is "that" time of year again when we ask: does spending reflect the school's priorities? The finance committee will be finalising the budget for the coming year. And the full governing body must approve it. So how can you get the best from your budget?

The budget should target resources to achieve priorities for improvement, and should be driven by educational needs.

But it will also need to take into account local and national priorities as well as those of the school. The governing body is required to submit an annual budget plan to the local education authority detailing how delegated funds will be used.

* For budgeting purposes it is often helpful to break down the school development plan into smaller strategic plans for curriculum, staffing and premises, and apportion costs.

* Make sure you are drawing maximum income to the school including grants and income from lettings.

* Schools now have to apply "best value" principles to budget-setting. This means ensuring the school is getting best value for money - as the governing body is, in effect, the guardian of public money.

Your local authority should be able to help you with the best-value guidelines. These focuson the need to question how a service is provided, compare the service with that provided by others, consult with the users of the service and ask if competitors could do it better.

* Governors should challenge historic spending patterns and assumptions and ask questions about the costs of services. Would it be sensible to pool resources with other schools or use staff more cost-effectively? Are resources being used to support performance management?

* The draft budget proposals might include options for governors' consideration backed up with professional information and advice. Any significant changes to spending priorities should be discussed with staff andor parents as appropriate.

* It is recommended that schools set a three-year indicative budget as well as the budget for the year ahead. Given the uncertainties about future funding, having clear priorities is all the more important.

* While setting the budget also set out the monitoring procedures and a timetable for these - monthly reports are usual.

The Audit Commission document, "Getting the Best from the Your Budget", provides more advice on budget-setting. Details on its website www.audit-commission.gov.uk.For best-value guidelines see www.local-regions.detr.gov.uk bestvalue

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