School Budgeting Tips: How to Develop an Effective Budget for the New Financial Year

Time to read: 8min 16 Apr 2021

With the new school financial year having hit on April 6th, it’s likely that your school is now focused on end of year financial admin and planning your budget spend for the next few years.

Perhaps a key strategic focus of yours will be investing in initiatives to support child wellbeing and to help children catch up after lost learning. Thankfully, the government has announced that they are committed to supporting schools and students to recover the learning that has been lost as a result of the pandemic.

In June 2020, they committed to a catch-up package totalling £1bn. This includes a ‘Catch-Up Premium’ to help schools make up for lost teaching time worth a total of £650m, as well as an additional £350m to help disadvantaged pupils catch up on lost learning with the National Tutoring Programme.

They’ve also committed an additional £300m in January 2021 to a programme which involves high-quality tutoring to support students.

Click here to read more about the Government’s plans for schools.

We know that you will be hard at work with your budget planning for next year – on top of everything else that you’re doing! To support you, we have created a list of things that you may want to consider at the start of this new financial year. Most of these will be basics that you are already doing, but there may be one or two new things to consider…


SWOT analysis

Conducting a SWOT analysis is a great place to start when budget planning. By evaluating strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats, you will be able to clearly see which areas you may need to add additional funding to. It can also help you to identify any areas where you could cut some spend.

The SWOT analysis will help you to identify areas that you are excelling in. You can then look at these areas for best practice. Are you doing well in that area because it is heavily funded? Or is there something else that you are doing?

When planning for weaknesses, opportunities, and threats, your SWOT analysis can be complicated. It’s important to remember that just because you have identified an area for improvement, it doesn’t need to be fixed immediately.

Rank them in terms of importance and urgency. After you have figured out what needs to be tackled now, you can start putting a plan in place and adding it to the budget if it requires funding.

Tip: Have you tried peer mentoring? Grab a (virtual) coffee with a colleague in a similar school and challenge each other to find out what your schools are good (and not so good) at.


Critiquing your budget

Are you at the end of your three-year rolling budget?

Try to look at each item of spend and ask yourself: ‘Was it worth it?’ ‘Did it deliver the expected return?’ ‘Has it made our lives easier?’

If the answer is yes, then this is probably something that your school would want to budget for again in the next three years.

But if the answer is no, then it is a good time to look at the contract for that specific item and potentially explore alternatives.

Tip: Find out how your school differs from similar schools using the Government financial benchmarking website.

Are you in the middle of your rolling budget?

Familiarise yourself with any contracts which may be due, and make sure that all details are maintained and up to date.


Forward planning  

When forward planning for you school’s budget, it is important to think about external factors. With COVID-19 likely to continue to impact school life for some time, consider any impact this may have on spend.

Take into account the continuing requirements for face masks and hand sanitisers, as well as the additional cleaning in classrooms and toilets, and how this will impact your school’s budget.

On the other side of the coin, will the move to online generate additional savings elsewhere? You could be seeing fewer photocopying rates, less overtime for parents’ evenings, or even fewer stamps on physical interactions like BACS payments.

You may also want to think about any changes to the curriculum, pastoral care, health and safety, and attendance – to name just a few! As the coronavirus pandemic has proven, we can never really know what is around the corner.

But you should still do what you can to forward plan. There are many factors that are still very much in your control. Think about parental engagement, clubs, software, your choice of suppliers, and school repairs, and how these could factor into your budget planning.

You could even look towards next year’s intake for any potential benefits or risks that they might bring. Put out the feelers to your feeder schools; is there a higher (or lower) rate of SEND (Special Educational Needs or Disability) or FSM (Free School Meals) children who are likely to come your way in September? What implications could these children have on your spending?

When you are forward planning for your school’s budget, you may also want to consider income generation.

During a recent ParentPay School Budget and Income Collection Survey, 25% of schools said they planned to increase fundraising activities (e.g. donations from parents), and 13% planned to increase room lettings in order to boost their budget and income.

Do you have spaces that could be rented out to local clubs or organisations outside of school hours? If you do have space, this is worth considering if you haven’t already.

You can even get systems to help support with booking and payment for rentals, such as Schoolcomms’ club management solution. Additionally, SchoolCloud Parents Evening Software offers a room booking system, allowing staff to easily book any room or resource by period online and manage lettings after-school.

Click here for more information on Schooolcomms’ club management.


Workforce management & investment

Workforce management is a critical factor in managing spend. You need to consider the number of staff required and the level of pay.

And what about your supply teachers? Could you be doing more to support your full-time teachers when they are off sick? Knowing that a quality, trusted supply teacher can cover their classes when they are ill, teachers may find reduced levels of stress. Online supply services such as Just Education can provide that support, and save your school money on traditional agencies.

You should also be thinking about investment in your staff, in terms of training, taking into account any costs that have been deferred due to the impact of the pandemic. Your budget should always include money for staff training and development, as this is essential to help the school function optimally.

Don’t just leave it to the SENCo. With many children experiencing from mental health and wellbeing issues as a result of extended periods of social isolation, training a range of staff at all levels on Mental Health First Aid and wellbeing would be an invaluable investment.

Public Health England have published a free online training course that helps people to support children and young people’s mental health and wellbeing during emergencies and crises. Sign up to Psychological First Aid: Supporting Children and Young People today.

But it’s not just your pupils who you need to take care of. Teachers and Teaching Assistants have taken a huge amount of pressure, workload, and responsibility over the last year, so investment in staff wellbeing is more important now than ever.

With this in mind, consider running a confidential survey among staff to hear their opinions on the health and wellbeing initiatives offered by your school, and listen to how your staff would like their wellbeing needs to be supported. You can then use this to help inform how well the processes that you have in place are working.

Investment in staff wellbeing is crucial and should be carefully considered when budgeting. Not only does it help to promote positive mental health, it can also reduce staff turnover, increase morale and, therefore, the quality of teaching.


Investment in technology

When reviewing your school’s budget, take some time to explore whether there is any room for new systems or software that would make life when managing a school and delivering education easier.

Consider what is happening in your local network. Are there any software that has worked for similar schools that you could be benefiting from?

Here are some examples of systems that you may wish to consider:


Plan for a safety net  

As the last 12 months have shown, things can change in an instant, with many individuals and organisations having to fall back on their financial safety net.

While the government often puts additional funding in place for schools during situations like this, it is still important to try to factor in a little ‘wiggle room’ in your budget.

Unexpected things can crop up, and this usually happens without much notice. So, where possible, having a financial safety net, and a clear process for emergency budget decisions, is a very helpful idea. Of course, this isn’t something that is always achievable, but it is something you should consider exploring when reviewing your budget.


Set aside time to review your budget regularly

With the ever-increasing list of responsibilities involved in school management, keeping everything on track can be a challenge. Remember to set aside time to review and rework your school’s budget plan, involving your senior leadership team and key stakeholders at the correct level, if necessary.

Check regularly to see if you are entitled to any additional funding.

If you risk going over budget, ensure that your stakeholders are regularly updated on progress. You may also want to consider any additional income generation such as rental opportunities or offering a market for second-hand uniforms.

This time of year can be challenging, and there is a minefield of administration which you need to carefully navigate. There is so much to consider when looking at your end of year finance and reviewing your school’s budget, but hopefully this guide has provided you with some fresh pointers or new ideas that you hadn’t yet considered.

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