Deficits can hit any school at any time – they can be the result of a demographic change and the related funding shortfalls and changes, unforeseen staffing issues or the school roof blowing off!
Stuart Fern, Finance Director at One Education has some advice.
Budget Review – this will tell you how your school got here!
Whilst there are many guidelines and advice resources (especially from the DfE) out there for schools in relation to all financial matters – health checks, efficiency measures, checklists etc. – these guides are always useful but it is your school insight and knowledge that matters now as every school is different with its own unique expenditure profile and staffing structure.
You need to go into the detail behind every line of the budget and be especially mindful of making sure current spending is factored in as some cost centres will already be on track to overspend and so changes to spending may only achieve part year savings this year.
Expenditure on staffing: Review and Restate!
It’s your biggest spend and where the most difference can be made. Remember to review and challenge ALL areas – your job is to be objective and advisory to those making the decisions.
Any staffing restructure is expensive and a medium term project – it will be vital to ensure , once the schools budget is back in surplus, that the structure is ‘futureproof’ and won’t push the school back into deficit in the coming years. Judge all staffing decisions on their value, impact and potential savings.
Identify all the services you buy in light of their ‘educational benefit’ this makes the case for keeping them a solid one. BUT be mindful that some services may not appear directly related to education but will be having a positive effect on pupil outcomes and school performance metrics. It’s your SBM knowledge that is needed here to make those connections.
Funding and Income:
The deficit may have been born of a decline in school funding – if this is the case then you have to take the following actions:
Always align your budget with the school improvement plan, challenge all areas of expenditure and always plan for the unplanned!
You can never relax however, once a current year surplus is achieved again, further cuts and reductions may be needed to prevent future year deficits. The earlier decisions are taken the earlier they can take effect!