Planning the school budget efficiently is one of the most crucial things that a headteacher or administrator can do, it makes such a difference to the school, staff, and of course, the students.
With a carefully prepared and executed budget for your school, you can really invest in, focus on, and improve your school – making it a valuable learning place and experience for all stakeholders, without having to lack important resources in other places. We understand, it is a lot of pressure, which is why we’ve put together this simple guide to effectively planning a school budget.
The basics of school budgeting
New school administrators are often tasked with preparing, developing, and implementing budgets for their schools. Too often, the administrator doesn’t have a desired level of previous experience as they enter this exercise, with less than ideal results forthcoming. You know what they say; every day is a school day. At least it is for those that strive to improve themselves and those around them. So, it’s time to learn about the different funding streams that your school receives. I’ve put together a short, quick and dirty roadmap to consider as your hand-holding for those considering a school’s budget process for the first or nearly the first time.
The delegated funding — This is the simplest one to understand. It’s just your school grant, no strings attached. This is your most secure stream of income.
Capital funding — this is really only for long-term investments, and more than likely can’t be properly considered in your school budget. Things like new buildings and upgrades to systems are included on this.
Devolved funding — Basically the funding that each school gets for its needs. You have to prove how this funding is benefiting the students.
Revenue funding — The funding for things like salaries, heating, repairs, stationary…the necessaries.
Private funding — Things like donations, renting out rooms and school stalls. It’s always best to be transparent with these things.
Now, one of the first things you’ll most likely want to do is check where your streams of revenue were coming from your school’s last year budget. With devolved and capital funding being extremely vulnerable to change year over year, how will this funding (or wanting of) affect your budget for the upcoming period? Can you demonstrate and articulate just how vitally important the state funding was to your school and children attending? Once you’re aware of just where your money is coming from, start planning for every single possible scenario you can think of, good and bad. What exactly would you do if the devolved funding was reduced this year? You don’t want to be caught off-guard and unprepared if the winds of change cast a storm in your direction.
Follow your improvement plan to capitalize on the efforts made and until it’s time to adjust, keep moving forward. As most will agree, every school, regardless of past student success has plenty of room for improvement and efficiency gains, albeit when faced with a tight, no-room-for-error budget, it can be very easy to fall into the we-have-to-save-money frame of mind.
If you had unlimited money and resources, what would you do as one of your first decisions to make the teaching and educational standard so much better than it was yesterday? Now, after you imagine the possibilities, can you still do it with a budget? Why and why not?
Look at last year’s budget. Check where you under-spent and overspent. Consider any changes in pupil numbers, past exam results, staff variances, and resource differences.
What resources do you students desperately need, to ensure that they will exceed expectations this year? After all, the most important aspect of your budget should revolve around your pupils —this is to ensure they have the best chances of success in the future.
We would highly recommend checking if there were correlations between past budgets and a drop in exam scores. For example, the year that the school put less money into the language department, exam results and student satisfaction scores went down.
However, that same year you put more money into the English department and exam scores went up. There won’t always be correlations that are this black and white, but sometimes it can be rather telling. Also, really evaluate where you can cut costs — sometimes unjustified levels of spending are given in areas that don’t really need it.
Prepare for the unexpected
Very often, a budget is so tight that it can be hard to plan for the unexpected. In fact, unplanned expenditure is probably the worst two words that you can utter to a headteacher. Health and safety and maintenance are the two big culprits for unexpected outgoings. That being said, very often a staff member will propose something that is “necessary.” Being in a senior teaching role requires a lot of critical thinking. You should challenge every single proposal given to you, asking for evidence of how the spending will positively impact the students. It would be nice to have unlimited access to resources and equipment but, unfortunately, it can’t always be granted. You also need to be prepared for any drops in school funding. This might shake up your budget a little bit, it’s your job to ensure that the pupils don’t feel the adverse effects. Just make sure that you’ll be prepared in case something important, unavoidable or necessary pops up. You don’t want the students missing out — and a lot can happen in a year. Make sure to add unexpected costs to your budget.
What are your personal school needs?
Every single school is different, and that’s completely fine. You just need to work your budget around it. What’s necessary for one school, might not be required for another. This point closely links to the improvement plans point. There could be creative and innovative ways around helping specific departments, utilizing the resources that you already have and increasing extra- curriculum activities. Take a look at the departments that are doing the best — are their aspects of your budget which quite clearly lean towards those? What can you do to help other departments in a similar way? This could also be a time to reflect on teaching standards. Are there classes that aren’t obviously doing as well as others? Why is this? It goes without saying that the better the teacher, the better the results. You might have to play the bad cop.
Set yourself a realistic timeline
The planning stage in your school budget is, hands down, the most critical part. Being able to draw up a timeline that takes everything into consideration is crucial. Mark out months that are more expensive consider heating bills and other amenities. Don’t create a timeline that is a little bit dreamy — make it realistic and raw. Also, try to add in moments that you will reassess the budget, in your timeline. For example, October, February, and July could all be months that you get feedback on your budget.
It’s always good to be organized.
Always choose the value for money options Of course, we would all love high-end expensive things, but that can’t be a priority with a school budget. Resources, bills, maintenance, catering, and other necessities can all be researched, finding the lowest price possible . Exercise books and other learning materials might be found much more affordable online. It’s also essential to asses any spending in departments that seem a little high. Perhaps the science department is using a really unnecessary amount of paper, or the English department is going through printer ink like it is water. Challenging every single area, finding the best value and cutting unnecessary costs will have an unbelievable effect on your overall budget.
Create your spreadsheets
Now, with all that being considered, it’s time to draw up your very own budget report spreadsheet. Your spreadsheet should include the following:
• Month to month spending
• The items in the budget. For example, “teaching staff” and “classroom supplies.”
• The total budget for each item
• Expected expenditure for each item
• Actual expenditure to date for each item
• Comparison of both expected and actual — this will highlight where you’ll be making cuts and where you will be increasing spending. “Hopefully, your spreadsheet should highlight that your expected expenditure does not exceed the annual income. If it does, regrettably, it’s time to go back to the drawing board.” — Jennifer Watts, Senior Editor at Top Writers Review .
Confidence is key With your sparkling new spreadsheet, it’s time to propose it to the school governors. To make everything run smoothly, make sure that your spreadsheets and reports are clear and concise.
Prepare yourself for any questions and complaints, always be equipped with facts and figures to back your points. The hardest thing to propose to the governors is, of course, the places where you’ll be increasing spending. Be confident with your approach — make it impossible for them to say no. Work with the other teachers It’s essential for the teachers to be able to understand the budget too. You can walk them through your reasoning and ask them for help with cutting down costs. The responsibility of specific department budgets could be placed with other teachers, this gives them a little financial challenge that provides them the financial accountability they need.
We hope these tips help you in understanding how to create an effective school budget. It’s not impossible to save money but add value, it just takes a lot of assessing, evaluating and, quite simply, being a bit harsh.