Stephen Mitchell

Making the most of funds

Well, a new year’s upon us, and if you’re like me, there’s numerous new year resolutions to break over the next few weeks!

However, one resolution that I’m sure we all want to keep is managing our funds to the best of our ability in our schools.   Its just common sense, and something that I’m sure we all strive for on a daily basis already.

In these heady times of headlines screaming “funding crisis” about schools, and the reality that we all know life is getting a little bit squeaky, despite the best efforts of the impending National Funding Formula, I’m reminded of the saying a wise person once said frequently to me “You can’t cost control yourself a future, but you can get yourself out of a crisis”.

Whether you believe this is a crisis or not, we undoubtedly have to be sure that we are making the best use of funds.    Value for money is not only a moral imperative on us all, but is also a great way to ensure that our schools can provide the best education for the children that we welcome every day.

 

The SBL’s dilemma

Working in any organisation where upto 80% of income goes straight out of the door on direct costs is always going to present something of a headache, – generally, SBLs do not have the lever to pull of moderating staff costs and therefore we have to work wonders to ensure compliance within the remaining 20 odd percent of income.    It’s worth bearing this in mind when budgets get tough to set – you need the support of the Headteacher to balance a budget, and they have to recognise the role that staffing plays in it.

Benchmarking

I had to have a chuckle to myself the other day.  My twitter feed pinged with several comments from Micon Metcalfe (@miconm).   Instead (or maybe as well as) of tucking into left over turkey sandwiches and pieces of Christmas cake, Micon was reading the financial accounts of various academy trusts.  This is a great way to benchmark yourself against other groups of schools and see who is spending what, where.   I really wouldn’t want to be the FD of the Trust that had only £60k reserves on a turnover of £5m, or one where payroll costs were nearer 85%…   Eek…

This led onto a conversation about the values of benchmarking.  We all acknowledged that this can be incredibly useful, but comes with a health warning.   If you take benchmarking data and aim to match the average figures, then all you’ll possibly achieve is being average, (but possibly well fun financially!).   As a professional you have to decide where you get the bang for your quid, and therefore you may not want to be just average on certain expenditure lines.     However, there are some great benchmarking tools out there, and the ESFA have their own one online at http://bit.ly/1Rsb6cC and the Kreston Reeves annual report is also worth a read.  Their 2018 report is due to be released imminently at www.krestonreeves.com

Curriculum Led Financial Planning

If you do have the ability to influence how classroom staffing is constituted, then this tool may well be for you.     Whilst Outwood Grange have really led on the development of this template and its current favour with the ESFA and others, it is based upon the budget modelling from yesteryear, and still stands the test of time.   You can learn much more about CLFP with a simple Google than I can put in this article, but, if your contact ratio for teachers is not 0.79 for secondary, or 0.81 for primary, can you afford to not check this out??

Pet projects

These are very easy to crop up in schools, where someone has an initiative that they stand whole heartedly behind, and no doubt does good, but also costs a small fortune.   IT in our schools has been one in recent years. We’ve got a phenomenal IT infrastructure now, but the costs of it have grown significantly more than I originally anticipated.  Being able to recognise where your cash is going is essential – I believe we’ve made the right choices with IT, its reaping benefits in the way our schools work together, but, I can easily see how I may have decided to curtail some expenditure on this in a parallel universe.

Ask some key questions

Perhaps the best way to end this blog is to refer back to an article that was recently written by the leader of ISBL, Stephen Morales (@stephenpmorale1), of our new Institute (hope you’re loving it? – I think it’s a great move) for an edition of TES recently.   He raises 9 key questions (read the article at http://bit.ly/2DtmeDn) we should ask ourselves about the way our finances are managed and how to get the best use of our funds….

  1. Is there any duplication of effort?
  2. Is there any unnecessary manual intervention?
  3. Are contracts routinely reviewed for value for money?
  4. Is a procurement strategy in place?
  5. Do we have a costed short-to-medium and long-term life-cycle maintenance plan?
  6. Is automation realising efficiency?
  7. Are management levels appropriate for the size of the organisation?
  8. Have collaborative opportunities been enthusiastically explored?