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For governors - planning for the financial challenges ahead

Allowing a deficit to develop will only bring difficulties to a school; year on year it will become more difficult to provide the education to which pupils are entitled, whilst endeavouring to pay the deficit off.

There are a range of options available to each school, many of which are not attractive to school leaders and governors but nevertheless have to be considered. The questions posed in the DfE Governance handbook (previous section) are a part of the ongoing work of the governors and promote an understanding of educational outcome and the link to funding.

Schools should be working on at least a three-year plan. The second and third years are clearly not set in stone but will indicate the level of action hat needs to be considered.

There is not one answer that applies to each school when funding is constrained. Schools have developed unique ways of providing learning opportunities and experiences to children and young people, alongside creative approaches to staff roles, which do not always easily compare from one setting to another.

A school spend is calculated on the number of pupils and is broadly likely to be:

  • 80% staffing
  • 20% other costs

Each school has choices about the focus of the funding. It is within the 80% that savings are likely to be found, particularly if the school has stringent and regular reviews of its non-staffing costs.

The following points are made elsewhere in the toolkit and this is a resume for governors.


The main options open to schools when facing a budget squeeze are the following:

  • Ensure you receive all the funding you are due
  • Generate any funding you can through
    - Letting parts of the school
    - Applying for any grants that become available
    - Raising funds through the Parent Teacher Association
    - Generating contributions from parents and carers (controversial in many circumstances)
    - Selling services to other schools and settings
  • Review the curriculum, if a school provides more than it is funded for, there will inevitably financial consequences
  • Increase average class size 
  • Increase contact time if non-contact time is generous (a level of non-contact time is the statutory minimum level of 10% of contact time for teaching staff plus a reasonable amount of time to discharge leadership duties for those who have them) Consider how you provide planning preparation and assessment time for teaching staff

Carley Holliman, Headteacher and Liz Redman, School Business Manager -  Brockswood Primary School - talk about the impact made by working on the staffing budget together

  • Review the leadership provision across the school and, if appropriate and possible, reduce spend in this area. Small schools will inevitably have to explore this as they run the risk of not being viable if they do not collaborate. Schools have many different leadership and management structures, and comparisons are not straightforward. The total number of teachers in the leadership group (FTE) is collected in the Workforce Census annually, and each school’s underlying data is included in published school workforce statistics.
    Some schools calculate the cost of non-class-based leadership time as a percentage of total expenditure, and compare the cost to that of similar schools by collaborative exchanges of summary information. Likewise, multi-academy trusts can compare their figures with those of similar member schools.
  • Explore partnerships, appoint joint post holders and share resources with other schools. There is a move amongst schools nationally to explore this area as a way of sharing expertise, retaining talent and managing costs. There can be benefits of this approach to all types of school and small schools can find this route particularly helpful
  • Collaborate with other schools to make a joint offer, e.g. KS4 and post-16
  • Run the school with less staff, teaching and support. This summarises  the previous seven points on this list
  • Reduce spend on resources
  • Make use of any resources, when suitable, that are free
  • Scrutinise budgets, such as that for examinations, that have grown over the last decade, and trim if possible
  • Deliver external support, which you would otherwise purchase, more cost-effectively yourself. This may involve upfront training costs but lead to savings further down the line
  • Use online facilities to save staff time, e.g. ParentPay
  • Review contracts with providers and investigate whether better value can be found
  • Use purchasing agreements set up for groups and collectives
  • Attract your local community to ensure that all pupil places are filled
  • Ensure you have the best possible advice – an external view from Herts for Learning Schools HR Advisory Team, the Financial Services for Schools Team or an external consultant can be powerful

A reduction in spend will require significant evaluation and review of what is effective and what can be modified or withdrawn. Alongside scrupulous housekeeping, each school, with the strategic support of governors, will ask itself a raft of questions to determine the best way forward in this process.

> Collaboration and partnerships


Herts for Learning
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