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Eight ways to set an effective school budget

As the deadline for school budget submissions looms large, not-for-profit HFL Education (formerly Herts for Learning) is sharing its top tips on how school and academy leaders can create an effective budget that will help – not hinder – the delivery of a great education for every child while keeping finances out of the red.

  • Don’t just use last year’s budget 

Writing budgets gets more challenging every year – gone are the days of replicating last year’s budget lines and simply adjusting them for inflation! Taking that approach now is a sure-fire way to make more work for yourself in the long run. Take the time to analyse the outcomes from the year-end accounts of the previous year – what did you overspend on, what wasn’t worth the investment, where could you make efficiencies? This will help you create a budget for the future which is going to work harder for your school.

  • Doublecheck your pupil numbers

The number of students on roll is an important factor in the National Funding Formula and for planning provision, so it’s a key piece of information for realistic budget setting. To make sure your student number predictions are as accurate as they can be, check your figures against your local authority’s place planning data to see what numbers they are predicting for your area. 

  • Align with your School Improvement Plan / School Development Plan

Your budget should reflect your school’s strategic plans for growth and development, and the resources you are going to need to get you there. For example, if your objective for the next academic year is to improve reading outcomes for pupils, ensure you have budgeted for the additional books and teaching resources you’ll need to make that happen.  

  • Review your staffing levels

Staffing should account for between 75% and 80% of your total revenue income. If your costs exceed this, you might need to consider how to structure both classrooms and the back-office to optimise outcomes and impact. Start by looking at how many teaching staff you need to deliver the curriculum and then allocate classroom support hours against a strategy designed to ensure the highest quality learning outcomes for every pupil. Budget deficits are like a rising tide, so it’s key to your financial sustainability that you take early action if you have too many teaching and/or support staff in your structure. Don’t delay and utilise any resignations as an opportunity to rethink structure and staff deployment.

  • Fully cost your SEND provision

SEND is one area where it is very easy for schools to go overbudget so provision mapping your SEND support is a useful tool to ensure you set an accurate budget. Review how much it is costing to provide SEND support for pupils vs the additional funding you receive and ensure these two amounts are in balance. Don’t forget to include the £6,000 notional SEND budget per pupil. If you are struggling to make the numbers align, consider how you could deliver support in a different way and in line with the funding received – for example, moving from 1-2-1 support for children with SEND to a team teaching approach for a group of students.

  • Pupil premium numbers

A large percentage of your Pupil Premium expenditure will invariably be sat within your staffing expenditure already. Ensure that you have calculated your Pupil Premium staffing costs before adding additional non-staffing expenditure, such as subscriptions, therapies, trips and activities etc, so that you are clear on the resource envelope available to you. 

  • Check your work

If you want to check that your budget is on the money, so to speak, the Integrated Curriculum Financial Planning (ICFP) tools on the Department for Education website are really helpful. You can check where your proposed budgets sit in comparison to national thresholds, and it has a calculator to help you work out the teaching resources needed to run the classes in your school. 

  • Be prepared to make difficult decisions

If you can’t make the figures fit in your budget, you will have to make some tough choices about your expenditure – and sooner rather than later. The longer the books don’t quite balance, the larger the deficit position the school will find itself in. This will have a cumulative impact on education outcomes, staff morale, your mental health and much more. We always suggest school leaders open a dialogue with staff and be honest with them about any financial challenges the school is facing. 

READ MORE: Ofsted in the spotlight – how much of a school’s rating is decided before an inspector even sets foot through the door?

Jackie Keegan, Resource Advisor at HFL Education who wrote the top tips for effective budgets, has been supporting schools with their finances for over 20 years. Jackie said: 

School budget-Calculator, glasses, pen and papers on white fading background

“Schools are under a tremendous amount of pressure to deliver high educational outcomes with budgets that are decreasing in real terms. The latest figures suggest around 9% of schools are now in deficit and we know from the schools we work with that can be a difficult spot to climb out of. So while setting budgets is difficult and it can involve making unpopular decisions or saying no to things you really want for your students and staff, it’s necessary to be prudent and to explore all your financial options to ensure your school remains sustainable for years to come.” 

HFL Education’s team of trusted advisors offers a wealth of training and support for schools and academies, from budgeting, financial planning and recovery advice to compliance and internal audits. 100% of the team’s financial professionals and business managers were previously employed within the senior leadership team of a school or trust before joining HFL Education, so they provide considered advice and tools which focus on educational outcomes as well as financial ones.

Need help with your budget? You can find more information about the HFL Education’s Financial Services offer on the website – www.hfleducation.org  

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