Top 5 to Consider when Setting a School Budget

As well as having to look at the next years’ budget for submission to the ESFA, all academies and trusts should be in the throes of preparing a 3-5 year budget for review with their trustees.  This will give an insight into the impact of rising costs and renewal plans, and if necessary, enable an action plan to be put in place now; before they get into a net deficit position.  So what is there to consider? 

1. Self-Generated / Voluntary Income

Frequently mentioned in the media of late, with costs reduced as much as possible the only other way to bridge the gap is to try and increase ‘other income’.  Some examples are as below;

  • Breakfast and After School Club

If this offering is already being made, a review to see if it is profitable may be a good idea.  Whether food can be donated from a local supermarket, the amount charged can be increased, the hours the club is open can be extended to be more appealing to working parents, the ratio of pupils to staff is the most efficient.  If schools within a local area can team up to provide this service economies of scale can be obtained to increase profit margins

  • Lettings Income

Again, the rate for the hire of facilities should be reviewed on an annual basis to ensure that it's covering costs.  Whereas schools let out sports facilities and halls as standard, it may be a requirement to think outside the box and look at hiring out meeting rooms / ICT suites for courses etc to try and increase income, with some academies even advertising their premises as wedding venues to generate a new stream of income

  • Voluntary donations from parents

Some academies do this as standard each year, asking for £10 per child for example.  However this is likely to become more popular, or rates may increase going forward as schools try to deal with budget cuts.  

2. Ultimate Staffing Structure

'£3billion of savings needed by 2019/20' according to the National Audit Office.  With an aim of less than 75% of all expenditure to be spent on staffing, a review of your current structure is inevitable.

The majority of academies we work with already try to minimise staffing costs via natural wastage, replacing posts with cheaper options, and using apprenticeships for cheaper labour.  However even with all of these savings some academies are still not able to balance their 3 year budgets.

It all seems to be bad news lately for the employer regarding staffing costs; national insurance increases, living wage rises, increase in pension contributions, apprenticeship levy, all on top of the normal annual increments!

An alternative radical method of looking at your staffing structure is to start with a blank piece of paper and build your ‘ultimate staffing structure’ from scratch.  This is difficult as it means ignoring people and just looking at roles.

To get this structure in place may result in a high initial outlay of redundancies and a large disruption; however the ongoing savings year on year should outweigh the initial cost, and the benefit to the education delivered to pupils should be worth the upheaval.

3. ICT / Premises Renewal Plan

These areas can sometimes can be overlooked; with just the actual costs from last year being used to budget for future years.
To remove any nasty surprises each academy should have a 3-5 year (at minimum) renewal plan for projectors / laptops / ICT suites / Ipad trolleys.  Along with a premises plan based on walk-arounds / planned maintenance / need for improvements.
Also ensure that you run any purchases of ICT hardware and software past your ICT expert to ensure that they are compatible with your network so as not to incur any wasted expenditure.


4. Review of Contracts

A review of all bought in services can be enlightening.  The amount schools pay for photocopier contracts in particular can vary by thousands!  Ensure you are always getting at least three quotes for large contracts to ensure best value for money is obtained.

There may also be various services schools purchase that are no longer necessary once they convert to an academy or become part of a Trust, so it is important to have a handle on when notice needs to be given to these companies to ensure that money is not wasted unnecessarily.


5. Pupil Premium

Although this needs to be disclosed on the academies’ website, a common error with budget setting is forgetting to ensure that costs are included for the equivalent amount of funding you estimate to get.  Obviously some of the funding can be used to cover staffing; if those staff members are specifically working with pupil premium students.  However other expenditure needs to be accounted for in line with the academies plan to bridge the gap for these students.

Some interesting statistics;

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Author:  Director, Carina Gilbert