The education landscape is forever changing – with teacher workload dominating the news, alongside the proposed plans of the national funding formula, we understand that school business managers (SBMs) are feeling the pressure.
Not only do you have to deal with the government agenda and ever-changing policies at a fast pace, but your role is constantly evolving.
So, how can SBMs ensure they are working effectively, and that their school is financially efficient, in the face of financial cuts?
Created in collaboration with Caroline Collins, Head of School Business at Miles Coverdale Primary School, Fellow of NASBM and Specialist Leader of Education, here are some key tips to help you during this uncertain time.
Tip 1: team work
Having a competent and efficient team working with you is key for SBMs to be in a position to provide an effective business management service. School business management is a strategic role, and to work strategically and effectively, the SBM must delegate operational work to the team.
It is important that the team is looked after and that they have access to timely and relevant CPD – but this does not need to be via an expensive external provider. In-team CPD is a good way to use INSET days or team meetings. Sharing knowledge across staff will lead to a highly competent, knowledgeable team, who are able to share workload.
Our CPD Tracker contains space to outline each teacher’s details and job role, as well as prompts to encourage post-CPD reflection, enabling you to monitor the development of staff and evaluate the effectiveness of CPD training.
Tip 2: financial efficiency
SBM professionals often have a wide range of continuously developing roles and responsibilities within a school, and a large part of their role is intrinsically linked to school finances. A large chunk of a school’s financial planning is often delegated to the SBM by the headteacher or governing body. Responsibilities of the SBM depend on the school’s circumstances, but preparing and monitoring budgets, creating a strategic financial plan linking the budget to school priorities, and generating ideas to maximise school income, are often standard tasks assigned to the SBM.
There are a number of ways in which SBMs can achieve financial efficiency – which is critical, with schools facing decreased funding alongside increasing staffing costs and contributions to the apprenticeship levy. Many LAs are providing less services to schools, and services that are being offered are done so via service level agreements at a cost that has risen for many.
This has inevitably led to a more competitive market in terms of educational services and resources which allow SBMs an opportunity to source competitive quotes and make financially sensible decisions while, ultimately, saving the school’s money.
It is also important for SBMs to make use of the discount codes that many of us are offered through external agencies such as NASBM – large suppliers such as GLS and TTS have offered regular discounts for schools placing orders.
Tip 3: collaboration
Collaborative procurement with neighbouring schools can also help achieve efficiencies, as SBMs take advantage of the savings achieved through bulk purchasing.
With an average of 75-80 percent of school budgets being allocated to staffing, this is a key area of the school budget that will be affected over the next few years of prospective funding shortages.
It should be noted that staffing costs over 80 percent of a school’s total income are considered high. Costs as a percentage of total expenditure can appear artificially low when a school is overspending and expenditure is higher than income.
The key impact on staffing in teaching, support and admin staff will be during times of staff mobility, and in some cases redundancies. If this time comes, schools need to consider whether they can have leadership staff working across several schools, thus sharing the costs.
Schools are beginning to look at their management structures, including headteachers, deputy headteachers and department leaders, and realising that the current structures can be expensive. So, this could be a key area where schools, and certainly academy chains, may benefit from having leaders working across a number of schools.
Make sure you use our School Collaboration Agreement – which sets out a possible framework for when two or more schools may wish to enter into a formal collaborative agreement.
Tip 4: benchmarking
Benchmarking can be a really useful method during financial planning for evaluating your school’s financial efficiency.
Conducting a benchmarking exercise may well result in critical savings, and this is often in areas of high spends, such as energy costs. Identifying areas of spend where your school has spent significantly more than your statistical neighbours should result in a quick call or email to those schools to discuss how they are managing to spend less and, in turn, you should be able to negotiate with those companies to get the best deal for your school.
Tip 5: strategic planning
Strategic financial planning looks further into the future than the yearly budget and takes into account how factors such as pupil numbers and changes in school funding will affect the school’s finances.
A school’s yearly budget is an essential aspect of financial planning, and it is recommended that the budget is based on a strategic financial plan. Having a strategic plan in place when developing the budget allows the senior leadership team (SLT) to guide discussion about financial planning, linking the school’s finances to curriculum planning and any potential changes that may impact the budget.
When developing a strategic financial plan, the following issues will need to be considered:
- The cost of teaching staff
- Staffing requirements
- Expenditure for other resources, including non-teaching staff, resources, etc.
- Pupil forecasts
- Funding allocation and income
Tip 6: school workforce
As schools face increasing funding pressures, the effectiveness of their workforce is paramount. Teaching costs account for the single largest area of expenditure in schools’ budgets –therefore, you need to ensure you are getting the maximum value from this resource.
Reviewing your workforce does not necessarily mean cutting staffing numbers ─ Consider your curriculum and existing staffing structure, look at your pupil-to-teacher ratio, and reflect if you are being as effective as you can with your teaching staff.
Ensure that your most experienced staff are being utilised effectively; for example, are they supporting disadvantaged pupil groups eligible for pupil premium? Also, ensure that experienced staff have the opportunity to mentor their colleagues.
Our School Workforce Planning Template can be used to help schools plan their staffing structure in the future, taking into account the arrangements of the current workforce and future demand.
Tip 7: managing workload
No two days are the same for any SBM, and despite going to work with a mental plan of what you want to achieve, it is a rare day that an SBM sticks to that plan. Time management skills are, therefore, crucial, but so is the ability to remain calm, professional and level-headed as unexpected things crop up. It isn’t possible to plan each day, but the strategic development work done throughout the year, along with regular tasks such as financial report deadlines, can be planned for.
Drawing up an annual calendar detailing key tasks broken down into school terms will help plan for such tasks. Printing it and having it close to the desk will give SBMs a visual reminder of key dates and targets that are due throughout the year – an easily read visual representation should help.
A three-year premises improvement plan will also facilitate effective working as the SBM knows what needs to be done, when it needs to be done and by whom.
Ms Collin’s ‘3 Ps of school business management’ are:
The final words of advice are “remember, don’t sweat the small stuff!”.
Our Financial Planning for School Business Managers (SBMs) guidance document outlines some approaches that an SBM can take towards financial planning, highlighting the importance of advising the SLT and governing body based on their skills and knowledge.