This year, next year, sometime, forever

4th November 1994 at 00:00
Q I am a governor and chairman of the finance committee at a large school. The school is due for inspection very soon and the registered inspector has said he wishes to see me in my capacity as finance chairman. What questions can I expect?

A The inspection handbook simply points out that, in statutory terms, the governors have to decide how the budget is spent and keep accurate accounts. You, of course, will know only too well that, for a big school, with a large budget, it is much more complicated than that. The inspectors will look for information about the following issues: * What are the precise arrangements between the school's senior management team and the governors for short and long-term management, as distinct from the day-to-day organisation of the budget, which will be the business of office staff (though the inspector will want to know how you are kept informed of such organisation)?

* How do you come to decisions about how the budget is to be spent, about your priorities not merely for a year ahead, but for two or three years or even longer? How do you balance the demands of staffing, resources and premises?

* How are your financial decisions and priorities linked to the school's overall priorities, as set out in the development plan. Are these plans, initiatives, and projects realistically costed? Inspectors will find it helpful to know what sub-committees there are, finance, staffing, curriculum, buildingspremises and so on,how they liaise and how their recommendations to the main governing body are dealt with.

* What information does the governing body use when it comes to making decisions about priorities and expenditure, where does such information come from and how balanced and reliable is it? Does such information enable you to make decisions and projections about, for example, staffing needs a couple of years from now, to plan for large expenditure in areas of curriculum change and development, to provide for the requirements of statutory legislation?

* Most important - and complicated - of all, how do you know the school is providing value for money? By this I do not mean whether expenditure is monitored and every penny can be accounted for (though obviously that is also important), but whether the priorities on which you have spent the money - staff, new building, fresh curriculum directions - can be shown to have resulted in improved education for the pupils. To do this you will need to have decided upon criteria that can help you evaluate educational success.

These, I think are the large questions. But there will be associated enquiries. Do the governors know how efficiently and effectively resources are used? For example, is all the complex information technology, on which you spend so much, fully exploited? Is the level of administrative and clerical staff adequate for the school's needs?

Finally, of course, inspectors will have had signs of your current account and audit reports, and will discuss them with you.

Bill Laar is a registered inspector. Questions should be addressed to him co The TES, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1 9XY, with the name and address of the sender, although these are not for publication.

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