Team gets to grips with your money

4th November 2005 at 00:00
I am in the process of setting up a new team in our school to look after our financial management. This has become necessary as I am worried that we could have quite a substantial deficit budget if we are not careful. Before I set this team up, what sort of skills do you recommend it should contain?

It is a really wise move to go for a team approach with regard to many things in education these days as the levels of complexity increase.

This is certainly the case in the area of financial management. Some headteachers, who have had problems with financial management, have been trying to keep hold of financial matters on their own. The financial part of the job has become too big for one person. To avoid the inherent pitfalls, some schools look to a team approach. This is the right way forward. Your team could include individuals from different levels of the school community - management, teaching, support and administration staff - as well as governors. You may even want to consider the involvement of someone from the education authority or an external consultant. Team members can be selected to make use of their finance and non-finance expertise. Having someone to ask those apparently naive financial questions is always useful, particularly in ensuring that the team clarifies each step along the way. This prevents the team relying on the so-called "expert" members too much.

So, what levels of expertise will your staff need for a place on this team?

First, you will need to know what level of competence they have in financial management. If you know this already, fine. If you do not, then how are you going to get this information? Check the gaps between what they tell you they think their financial capabilities are and what they appear to be to you. Get both of these perceptions checked by a third party!

Second, what role do you want each of them to employ on the team? Who is going to assist you with the strategic leadership and management of finance? Have you got anyone who demonstrates the personal commitment and qualities required for financial management? For example, someone who can assist you with:

* leading and managing the development of strategic financial plans;

* researching and analysing strategic choices and able to recommend those most likely to achieve the school's goals.

Is there anyone who has clear understanding of good financial management practices and the school's performance compared to it?

Third, who is going to look after the accountability responsibilities and monitor finance with you? You need someone who:

* understands the legal and local financial requirements for the school;

* understands and can undertake budget-setting and monitoring with you;

* understands the importance of communicating the school's performance to different audiences.

Fourth, who is going to operate the financial systems and processes for you? Is there anyone in your school who has a clear understanding of the framework of financial control needed, and has experience of the controls and monitoring required for financial systems?

Each of these areas of responsibility carries a different set of competencies with it. Choose carefully.

I am sure that you realise setting up this team is only the first step in regaining financial control. After you have briefed the team, conducted an audit of where you are now, drawn up and communicated an action plan, there is still a long way to go for financial security. Most schools compose three-year budgets based on a number of assumptions and benchmark data.

Once you have decided what you want the school to be like it can be helpful to use costbenefit and risk analyses on this. Construct some financial models after updating some of the original assumptions you have made. A good team will need expertise in preparing, delivering and monitoring a budget. However, the first job for your new team is recovery planning.

Patrick McDermott is head of St Joseph's Catholic college, an 11-18 girls'

school, in Bradford. This is his third headship, and he has been a head for 12 years and a teacher for 27. He is a facilitator for the National College for School Leadership and mentored Catholic heads for 10 years. Do you have a leadership question? Email

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