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

 

Income Generation: How Easy is it Really?

With the education sector facing significant financial challenges; schools and academies are looking at how to make efficiencies. Income Generation is often one of the last areas to really be focused on but can yield significant benefits.

Rather than brining any surprises to the table, let's explore three old favourites and look at the obstacles that come with them. 

Nothing new here, but so many schools never venture into looking at available grants with exception of the big hitters, such as the Conditional Improvement Fund (CIF) but there are quite literally hundreds of grants available! They range from potentially high value grants for buildings, equipment, projects to the smaller grants. All that’s required is a little time and research and sadly a fair bit of dreaded form filling (everyones favourite.)

Obstacles:

Time: the School Business Manager's biggest enemy. We all wish there was a magic wand to wave over this one, but just like you need to schedule the completion of that Budget Forecast Outturn or prepare your Management Accounts this is also where one you really should prioritise a little time, even if it is to investigate your options. We’re helping you out with a few links to get you started at the end of this blog.*

There is the option of paying someone else to complete the research and many will even complete the bid on your behalf, but there will always be a cost implication and there is no guarantee of the funding, so weighing up the risk versus potential benefits is a must if you are considering this option.

In addition there are some companies out there that you can just access lists of grants and/or get the support you need such as Pebble or Grants 4 Schools.

Many grants are given to fulfil a specific brief, so ensuring that you read the criteria fully before will help to complete any bid. The last thing you want to do is to fill in forms only to discover you missed something that excludes you from the bid. For example, some grants for breakfast clubs target schools with a certain percentage of free school meals, if you were in an area with a low FSM percentage you wouldn’t qualify, so read the brief and try to make sure your bid encapsulates the criteria to maximise the potential of receiving that grant.

Many schools generate vast amounts of revenue with lettings but it can vary depending on where you are located, with inner city schools being able to demand higher premiums than those of a village school.

Obstacles:  

Things to consider are the costs associated to lettings, I’ve worked with more than one school where they hire a room for £20 an hour but the cost of having site staff and keeping the school open far outweighs the financial benefits. Then, of course, there is the potential disruption, mess that may be left, damage to property and bad debt etc. all of which are potential reasons not to venture into Lettings.

If you’re already letting your spaces as a school, make sure you are getting the ‘going rate’ as many long term lets will have never have put up the rate for years. If you have a large amount of lets, do you have different rates for community lets and private lets? Is it possible for site staff to work shift times? Many schools pay large amounts of overtime to site staff to be available after hours and its often unnecessary. Most important of all - invoice in advance! So many schools are left unable to recover high amounts due to lack of credit control, something we would associate more with business, but when it comes to lettings we should be applying the same principles to avoid having to write off bad debt.

This is an old favourite and although it's unlikely to raise huge sums it's still invaluable to have the staff, parents and students involved. Having something to raise funds for can often help drive up those donations. For example, raising funds for something like a new school minibus can have a real impact as the fundraisers can see a tangible asset at the end of their efforts and they get that warm fuzzy feeling. 

Obstacles:

Actually getting people to participate! This is probably one of the more difficult obstacles to overcome. Staff and students are normally more than happy to participate in fundraising activity but getting parental involvement can be more difficult for some school, the only thing I can advise is to persevere. You just need a find few who are really dedicated to the school and they are likely to take a lot of the work of your hands. (Hallelujah!)  


Remember, if you are receiving funds through grants or fundraising, a thank you, and update or if appropriate, an unveiling ceremony, goes a long way to showing your appreciation.(who doesn't like a thank you?) No matter how big or small the funds are. Also, never miss the opportunity to invite the local press so that the wider community can see the results of your efforts. Who knows, a future benefactor could be amongst the readers. 


https://garfieldweston.org/apply-to-us/how-to-apply/

http://www.lmct.org.uk/what-we-fund/grant-programmes/

https://www.greggsfoundation.org.uk/breakfast-clubs

http://ernestcooktrust.org.uk/grants/

Author: Director, Tracy Dawson

 

 

Meet EduFin's Junior Consultant

Here at EduFin, we are proud to announce the arrival of our first Junior Consultant - Lawrence Brooks. Lawrence joined EduFin in September 2016 after working at two multi-academy trusts using both PS Financials and FMS. 

Since joining, Lawrence has worked for many different Schools and Trusts covering for absence and also data-entry training on the use of PS Financials. In addition to this, he has taken on the mantle of HCSS Accounting; having set-up the security structure, entered all opening balances and supported with bank reconciliations and payment runs.

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On working for EduFin thus far, Lawrence said “The environment has refuelled my hunger for accounting and working alongside fun and informative directors has enhanced my knowledge in all aspects of the academy sector.”

Lawrence, who is working towards his full AAT qualification, is available to support your academy finance team when resources on the ground are caught short. Knowing three pieces of academy accounting software and possessing the ability to hit the ground running makes his skills highly sought after.

Director of Finance and Business Services, Edenham High School said: "Lawrence’s support and expertise on using PSF to its full advantage has been so helpful to our school and the learning we have gained from him is immense on dealing with day to day financial transactions. I would recommend Lawrence to any school that needs support on understanding how to use PSF effectively." 

With depth in ability and a can-do attitude, Lawrence says his main aim is to "support your every requirement without difficulty or the traditional finance jargon”.

Contact us now if you’re interested in hearing more about what our shiny new Junior Consultant can do for you!

The Five Big Benefits of Training a Workforce

Think your saving time and money by not training your employees? Think again. Take a look at the biggest benefits of investing in a work force and why every company should be engaging with their staff.  

 

1.        Show your Employees they’re Valued

An organisation that’s willing to invest in their employee’s development will reap the rewards of a satisfied employee – which can only mean a more productive workplace. Giving your staff the opportunity to gain knowledge in their field will set you above other companies that perhaps aren’t willing to do so.

On the flip side of the coin, untrained employees can feel unsatisfied and unhappy in a work environment that isn’t willing to support and challenge their workforce with training. 

All-in-all the effects of development opportunities will boost morale, implement job security and prove that you value your employee’s enough to invest in their quality of knowledge.

2.        Weaknesses Exist

 Surprise, surprise – we all have our weaknesses! Even employees that appear on top form everyday are likely to have a few question marks floating around with them, unsure on where to direct their uncertainty. This is where training can benefit all levels of knowledge and job roles.

By acknowledging that all employees can and will develop from training, you are recognising the benefits of growing a team to meet similar levels of understanding, reducing any weak links within the company and diminishing worries that staff may not flag on their own accord.  

3.        Performance will be Enhanced

Ultimately investing in some quality training means encouraging your employees to learn and perform. A shared learning environment will impact staff on a wider level, enhancing team performance and keeping everyone on the same page. 

One of the greatest benefits of consistent and on-going training is keeping staff aware of the continuous changes in industry. With all employee’s informed, you needn’t worry about falling behind the latest progressions within the industry.  

Training

4.         Build Confidence

 Giving employees a deeper understanding of his or her field will only build confidence, driving better performance and eliminating any existing self doubt. With this new found self-assurance, staff are more likely to contribute with ideas and new methods of work creating a more collaborative and open working environment for your team.

With up-to-date knowledge and training, employees won’t be found seeking constant supervision or help from their peers. 

5.        Fewer Accidents = Money Saved!

 Mistakes happen when employees aren’t provided with up-to-date knowledge and skills. In addition, the struggle to understand something naturally means we spend longer trying to asses and solve the issue which of course takes precious time out of the day. 

Generally speaking, a well trained employee will display a better quality and quantity of work, meaning no misused time, no money wasted and no resources scorched.  In the long run the cost of training seriously undercuts the cost that comes with lack of training - it’s a no brainer.

If you’d like to learn more about the training offered at EduFin, click here.

Switching Hosts to Boost Expansion Plans For the Elliot Foundation

Not long after Suthan Santhaguru entered The Elliot Foundation’s doors as finance director in March 2015, it became apparent that its existing accounts package system – and the external hosting of it – had the potential to gnaw away at the trust’s ambitious expansion plans.

The charitable trust, which has around 20 primary schools in its academy chain, was keen to double its client base within three years.

Compounding matters, the foundation’s hosting provider wasn’t responding quickly to enquiries, causing chunks of time wasted on trying to solve issues. Had it not taken a calculated gamble for change, the trust feared the status quo would have more likely led to losing existing clients rather than attracting new ones.

Fortunately, Suthan had noticed the keen prowess of EduFin, a Kent-based one-stop shop for academy accounts management, whose team works nationally and was already helping the trust with its annual accounts. “As I engage with our trust’s academies, I was quickly able to see EduFin’s value,” says Suthan. “I gave them a few tasks and it didn’t take long to realize how sharp they are.”

Our relationships with academies have greatly improved as things are now running efficiently. EduFin’s excellence has enabled us to dedicate more time to growing the trust
— Suthan Santhaguru, Finance Director

Ahead of the current school year, The Elliot Foundation agreed to become the test bed for EduFin’s new hosting service, EduFin Connect.

By hosting the accounts packages of academy trusts on its dedicated and powerful servers, rather than those used elsewhere by hundreds of others, EduFin offers academy schools a cut-priced alternative to owning and maintaining their own servers.

“The software is loaded onto their machines; all they need is a good internet connection and they’re away,” says David Powell, founding director at EduFin. “The foundation’s old system relied on having a reliable remote application server, which was continually going off-line, meaning lost time whenever users’ lost connection. Our system works as long as you have internet access because the trust’s financial software is loaded onto our servers, where we maintain and administer it.”

A few months after switching to new hosts, Suthan was thrilled with the outcome. “Our relationships with academies have greatly improved as things are now running efficiently. That’s really important, otherwise life here can get so chaotic.” In fact, it’s working so well, he says, “EduFin’s excellence has enabled us to dedicate more time to growing the trust”.

With almost two dozen in its academy chain, based in three geographical clusters: West Midlands, East Anglia and London, the foundation is looking to convert five more academies into its framework by the new school year; with a slightly longer-term plan to grow to 40 academies. Suthan has full confidence in EduFin being a central plank in helping them to achieve just that.

EduFin now considered a vital business partner

The trust now considers EduFin a vital business partner, and incorporates its knowledge base into client pitches. “Whenever we try to convert potential academies, we mention EduFin’s new systems as an important part of our offer. Their full potential hasn’t yet been reached and I believe they can grow with us.”

EduFin’s David says: “We want to increase our client base but we don’t want to grow massively. We’re happy providing the best service we can to clients that need us. We work fast, and our EduFin Connect service backs that up.

“We offer a full understanding of how schools are set up and operate. EduFin Connect gives schools peace of mind knowing they have an easily searchable software system from which they can pull data,” adds David. “We handle the software meaning not only can we make their use of PS Financials’ software better, but we can also improve the speed of their access to it.”

The foundation is the first big trust to allow EduFin to host its accounts package. “It’s been working brilliantly,” says Suthan, who has also hired them for other jobs. “We’ve recently been hard-pushed to complete an audit and they were able to help us as an interim measure to manage the accounts of some of our academies. EduFin go the extra mile; they spoke for free at our conference and very rarely have I picked up the phone to them and they haven’t been able to meet our needs because they know what works and what doesn’t.”

EduFin-branded reporting package

“EduFin also has its own month-end, excel-based reporting package, which I’m going to roll out here,” he says. The system includes key areas of management accounts and pulls in the relevant numbers from the system to allow academies to comment on debtors, creditors and bank tabs linked into accounting software.

The package pulls out info in a user-friendly way for academy staff to comment on in simple fashion. “It is a standardised template, which I’ve been looking for some time to find, so all our academies can now use the same system,” Suthan enthused.

“EduFin as a whole is very good for the academy sector,” he adds. “Its team has an in-depth knowledge of PS Financials that is hard to find. They’ve been excellent in their ability to link that system to our accounts and make it work for us – and all our academies.

“They respond quickly, efficiently and without fuss no matter how complex the task and I need that. There aren’t many others on the market with the attitude and aptitude to do that.”

And what of the new hosting system’s price tag? It was actually half the cost of The Elliot Foundation’s old one.