Ten top tips for governors
Ten top tips for governors: productively challenging leaders on the school budget
Governors are expected to hold school leaders to account in a way that simultaneously offers both challenge and support. Governors who challenge aggressively risk compromising their role and relationship with school leaders as a critical friend. Those governors who sit back, stay quiet and do not provide any challenge to school leaders risk compromising the school and ultimately the outcomes for students. So how can governors challenge leaders in a productive and supportive manner to ensure the best possible education provision?
Governance of the school budget and all finance related matters is one of the most important responsibilities of the governing body, ensuring compliance, transparency and value for money across the school. As we move towards a system of more skills based governance we may see an increasing trend of finance professionals appointed to school finance committees and with this may come an increased confidence to challenge the work, strategy and direction of school leaders and an increased rigour and depth to that challenge. But it is unlikely and not necessarily desirable that all governing body finance committees will be constituted entirely of finance professionals. Even finance professionals may find the detail of ‘how school finance works’ a little different to their day to day role if they do not come from an education background.
Our top ten tips in this post are therefore designed to help any governor, regardless of professional background, school experience or level of expertise and can be used as a ‘back to basics’ checklist for even the most experienced of governors.
- Access training to help build your knowledge and understanding and to build your confidence around school finance related matters. This training might be school or academy led or may come from the Local Authority if they have a Governor Development Service or even from an external provider.
- Review the NGA (National Governors’ Association) website. Here you will find quality information which is presented clearly and methodically to guide you in what you need to know as a governor. There is a section specifically on finance and staffing that you may find useful. Full access is given to NGA members.
- Ensure you understand your school’s priorities, keeping up to date with the school development plan and paying particular attention to the resources/cost section so that you can understand where in the budget the resources are allocated to meet priorities.
- Understand the quirks of your school. Are there any issues which incur unusual or unusually high costs such as site issues, staffing issues or any legacy/historical issue?
- Expect documents for meetings to be sent to you in advance so that you can review them prior to the meeting. Make sure you are prepared and have set some time aside to do this. If this is not forthcoming from school leaders, direct your request via the committee Chair. Sometimes it is necessary for some items to be tabled at the meeting. If this is to be the case make sure you are comfortable with the reasons for this and that adequate time is provided for review during the meeting and that there is an opportunity to ask any questions to clarify understanding.
- Don’t be afraid to ask a silly question – others around the table may be grateful that somebody else has asked.
- If you can spare the time, get involved at school level to aid and deepen your understanding of the school budget. A great way to do this is to offer to shadow the member of staff undertaking financial benchmarking. This is not always an easy exercise and the staff member may welcome your interest and support. You do not have to be a financial wizard to support with this and add value to discussion. The whole purpose of the exercise is to trigger discussion amongst school stakeholders, particularly governors.
- Keep up to date with education news so that you have some level of awareness of the challenges and financial issues schools are facing now and in the future. If you don’t hear a mention of something you believe to be a significant issue for schools you can raise this with school leaders in a meeting, asking for example, what strategies are being implemented to prepare for the introduction of National Funding Formula (NFF)? A good way to keep abreast of current issues is to sign up to our free School Financial Success newsletter where we summarise the latest news and views from the world of education finance. We also send you free information and summaries of significant school finance announcements. Simply visit our website at schoolfinancialsucess.com and enter your name and email address to sign up.
- Keep an eye on schools forum papers and minutes for your LA, which should be accessible on a public website. Find out where from other governors, school leaders or if necessary contact your LA. Review of these documents will enable you to learn about any plans for changing the local funding formula or budget strategies to deal with government policy. You could then ask the Headteacher to raise any particular issues with the schools forum member that represents your cluster or group of schools.
- Listed below are some key areas of strategic challenge that you should familiarise yourself with as these will be relevant for you in your role as a finance governor.
- Best Value
- The best price taking cost and quality into account.
- Value for Money
- What is the cost? How efficiently are the goods/services/resources being used and what is the impact of the spend on student outcomes?
- Linking budget to School Development Plan
- Intelligent school planning is the relationship between the curriculum plan, staffing plan and budget which collectively feed into the school development plan. Can all priorities for school improvement identified in the school development plan be afforded and over what timescale?
- Financial sustainability of staffing decisions
- Are all staffing decisions taken with an understanding of the cost in future years? An NQT may be affordable in the current year but what will the cost be of that member of staff in five years time and what will the financial implications of this decision be in the future?
- An eye on the future – multi-year budget planning
- Are budget plans presented for three to five years into the future? A school must be planning into the future strategically with as much known information as possible and professional judgement and informed estimates where necessary.
- Government driven policy
- What will the impact be on the school budget of government driven policy such as the National Funding Formula? What will the impact be for your school? What actions are being undertaken to prepare?
- Best Value
If you understand the principles behind each area you will find that you can apply these principles to relevant discussions in meetings to ask meaningful questions. These questions may prompt questions from others and/or further in-depth discussion which in turn creates meaningful and productive challenge.