Effective financial management in schools is critical, particularly at a time when headteachers are struggling to make ends meet.
Employing a specialist to take care of a school’s budget leaves headteachers free to focus their attentions on teaching and learning. But what if you do not have a school business manager?
Here are some tips to help you make those hard choices about resources, investment, performance and priorities.
Context, context, context
The context of your school will determine who you should be working with on financial matters. If yours is a maintained school, establish a direct link with local authority finance officers. If you are a stand-alone academy, ask yourself whether you know your business director well. Do they know you, your priorities and the way you think? Are you receiving the levels of assurance you require? If you are part of a multi-academy trust, find out where financial decisions are made and whether you have any influence in them.
Once you have identified who your key contacts are, establish a five-year story of the school’s finances by looking into the accounts for the previous two years and three years ahead. What does this tell you?
Determine what the drivers were for the school’s previous custodians and decide what yours will be. Finances are a school’s operational and strategic plans in numbers. Your ambitions should drive your budgetary priorities rather than your budget restricting your ability to drive improvement.
Your school probably invests 60-80 per cent of its money on its workforce. Are you getting value for money? Do your staffing model and deployment choices make sense? This doesn’t mean you must make redundancies, simply that what worked for your predecessor may not work now.
Check you are collecting everything that the school is owed. Determining this yourself may be unrealistic, particularly if you are new to finances and the intricacies of your Schools Forum decisions (the local committee which, pending the “hard” National Funding Formula, decides elements of funding distribution), so seek external assurance.
Invest time in understanding how finances work; don’t simply trust others. Make comparisons with previous years. Benchmark against other schools.
Check that there is a clear system tracking pupil-led factors, such as pupil premium and special educational needs and disability. And never be afraid to ask questions, even if they seem obvious.
Josh Greaves is chief operating officer for Wellspring Academy Trust