- In times of austerity there is always going to be pressure on school budgets, and this looks set to continue.
- As the headteacher you need to make strategic decisions about how spending will be prioritised.
- Focus on the school’s core educational purpose, ensuring that you employ and keep the staff who contribute most.
- Staffing costs are by far the biggest element in the school budget, so that is where you will need to focus your attention when considering where to make cuts.
For today’s school leaders there have never been more challenging financial circumstances. The education spending largesse of the late 1990s and 2000s, when there were plentiful funds to cater for virtually any and all initiatives, have given way to far more austere times. Pressures have primarily related to costs, with increases to National Insurance, pension contributions and the living wage. There have also been significant cuts to sixth-form funding, and talk of a national funding formula that will benefit some, but will hit others by up to 3% in per-pupil funding.
Today’s tough economic climate means that the need for every school leader to be savvy about money has never been greater. Effective financial management is increasingly important, since the way schools prioritise spending will be a big differentiator of success. This is summed up well in the quote by Warren Buffett, the legendary investor and the world’s richest man, when talking about companies in difficult trading conditions: ‘When the tide goes out, you find out who has been bathing naked’.
As the headteacher, you need to make strategic decisions about how spending will be prioritised, so you need to understand all areas of the school’s operations, including its financial management. If you don’t keep an informed oversight of the school’s finances, you run the risk of someone else managing the money poorly and the school having to bear the consequences.
So the big question is, how do you prioritise your vitally important financial resources? You need to concentrate on the most effective methods to get the best results, including employing staff who contribute to results.
So what do I consider to be the best value spending in schools? Without doubt that relates to supporting what happens in the classroom, lesson-by-lesson throughout the day. Invest in quality teachers, pay and reward them well, train them well, resource them well and look after them well. They will then give you the very best of their time and ability. That is what brings results.
Eliminating inefficiencies and poor management
In one school I went into, there was a senior leadership team of 17. It seemed that no one could remember exactly who was a member of the team or what they were supposed to do. Many were tenuous middle leadership roles at best, with one of these exactly replicating the job description of another middle leader within the school, and another who didn’t appear to have any role at all but stayed in the team nonetheless. This was wasteful and inefficient and the situation could not continue. In order to resolve this issue some decisive action had to be taken: eight roles were slashed, creating nearly £600,000 in savings, which has since been used to create class sizes averaging 15 in English and maths across all age groups. Unsurprisingly, results in both subjects have subsequently improved enormously.
Taking the hard decisions
Most school leaders recognise what needs to be done but cannot bring themselves to make the changes. This is usually because they will cause upset to a lot of people. I recall a conversation with one headteacher who told me, ‘I didn’t become a headteacher to make people redundant’. While being sensitive to the emotions of members of staff is an understandable response, the prime focus of all school leaders should be the outcomes for students. School leaders have accepted the responsibility of their position, and that sometimes means having to take difficult decisions, but changes to staffing should be done over time and in such a way as to protect the dignity of the people involved.
Problems do not go away – they only get worse if they are ignored. Putting off difficult decisions until the financial situation reaches a crisis point does not do anyone any favours, as this will lead to sudden drastic changes having to be made in a short space of time. I have conducted over 20 staffing restructures on a regular basis over the last three years. By completing these gradually we have overcome the considerable financial pressures, yet been able to handle each with the dignity, detail and professionalism that the staff involved deserved. In addition, this has avoided the needless destabilisation of staff morale which comes when big job cuts are made all at once.
Spend your money on what has the biggest impact on student outcomes and do what is most effective – and that is supporting teaching and learning and what happens in the classroom.
About the author
Adrian Kneeshaw was appointed as headteacher of Carlton Bolling in September 2013, which was the beginning of a very challenging, interesting and immensely rewarding experience. He has a passion for education, particularly in the enablement of disadvantaged young people, ensuring that they are able to achieve their very best. Adrian is very creative in his outlook and believes in taking education forward in innovative ways.