Value for Money Education
Ten key questions to check your school’s resource allocation practice
Schools strive to use funding as effectively as possible to provide value for money education and give our young people the best possible chances of life success. As schools are funded using public money they are held to account on the use of this funding, particularly through scrutiny of student outcomes.
The link between efficient and effective resource allocation and student achievement is obvious. If a school spends its money on the right things, in the right amounts, at the right times, it stands the best possible chance of academic success and the best possible student outcomes. If it doesn’t pay attention to these aspects, outcomes could be severely compromised by insufficient, inefficient or ineffective resourcing. So how do schools know if they are successful when it comes to resource allocation?
Is it simply enough to look at student performance data and assume that if a school is performing well, its resource allocation is a success?
A school can achieve excellent outcomes, but if it is doing so with unaffordable levels of staffing and small class sizes, the performance is unlikely to be sustained in the long term. Without careful planning and linking of the budget and school improvement plan, any requirement to reduce spending could put outcomes at risk.
Another important issue is the level of school balances. Significant reserves may be held, with no specific plans to use them. This does not represent value for money or equitable resource allocation; funding is intended for the pupils currently in school. If there are certain groups who are under-performing, the excess reserves (keeping a reasonable operating surplus for unexpected cost pressures) should be allocated to the relevant priorities in the improvement plan.
So how do schools know if they are allocating their resources well and how can this be measured?
Schools could ask themselves the following ten sets of questions in order to make a professional judgement on their own resource allocation:
1 How well does your budget link to your School Development Plan?
Are all priorities sufficiently resourced and can this be sustained over the next 3-5 years, if appropriate? Are pupils getting their fair share of the available resources to help them achieve their potential, especially if they are part of under-achieving groups? Are balances at an appropriate level?
2 Are staffing levels appropriate to meet the school’s needs and are they sustainable within your local and national context?
Do you use benchmarking to compare teaching and support staff levels with DfE guidelines and similar schools? Do you undertake this review at least annually? Are the results discussed amongst leaders and governors? Do you question whether your staffing levels are sustainable into the future? Would this be true if funding levels remained the same? What if there was a reduction in funding through government driven policy such as the National Funding Formula (NFF)? Are you prepared for any reduction in funding you may be faced with? How will you sustain staffing levels? If you can’t, how will this impact on pupil outcomes?
3 Is paid staff overtime focused, authorised or even necessary?
Do you have procedures in place to ensure staff overtime is:
- Agreed in advance by a line manager within the area of work?
Is it necessary? What will be the impact with or without this additional work? Should the work have been completed within normal working hours? Who will ensure the work undertaken in this time is quality assured?
- Authorised in advance by a leader with financial responsibility?
Are there sufficient resources allocated in the budget to cover the overtime request? Have the full costs of paid overtime been taken into consideration when allocating resources in the budget, i.e. increased National Insurance contributions, holiday pay and the living wage?
4 Are there areas of waste/financial inefficiency within the school that need to be addressed?
How might you identify these? Can they be tackled with no detriment to student outcomes? Over what timescales can savings be made? Have you reviewed all areas of the budget including those which may not, at first, appear to be a relatively high cost i.e. use of consumables such as paper and stationery, printing costs, telephony systems etc.?
5 Teacher recruitment strategies: are you making the most of the many types of resources available to you?
Can you be creative to improve your chances of success in teacher recruitment and avoid spiralling staff advertisement costs? Are you making the most of low cost media, including social media? Do you have a staff member in school who can manage your use of social media for positive results and in line with safeguarding and e-safety protocols?
6 Are your supply costs high?
Is staff absence an issue for you? Do you have a staff wellbeing programme in place to try to reduce absence?
Do your school policies support efficient supply cover management, for example:
- avoiding staff being out of the classroom unless absolutely necessary
- school trips in holiday time and not always term time
- support staff supporting trips, particularly in term time, so that fewer teachers require cover
- fewer staff attending courses but those who do disseminating information back to colleagues to ensure value for money and efficient sharing of learning and information
7 Is your school energy efficient?
Are your school buildings as energy efficient as possible? Would capital investment help to improve energy efficiency? Are there are funding sources available to support this?
Do you have an energy efficient culture within school? Do staff and pupils switch lights off when they leave a room and understand the most energy efficient ways to manage IT and electronic equipment? What can you do to create this culture amongst staff and pupils? Are there any links to learning for pupils?
8 Buyback of services and contracts – are they regularly reviewed?
When buyback arrangements and contracts are up for renewal, is a full value for money review undertaken to ensure the service:
- is still required
- is appropriately defined in a comprehensive specification
- meets the needs of the school/learners/other stakeholders
- is economical (the best deal taking cost and quality into account)
- is managed efficiently with robust monitoring of performance
- has a positive impact on student outcomes?
9 Are you protected against fraud?
Does your most recent audit report highlight any areas for concern in relation to fraud prevention? Have you taken action against any areas for concern and followed up all recommendations within the given timescales?
Do you have internal arrangements to undertake interim audit checks in between external audit processes?
Do you undertake a self-assessment of internal control as part of the process of completing an annual statement of internal control?
Does your school have robust internal financial procedures and are checks carried out to ensure these are followed by all appropriate staff?
Is there an appropriate segregation of duties amongst staff undertaking finance duties in school?
Is there a culture of transparency, within the limits of confidentiality in some areas, in relation to financial management?
Is your school’s whistle blowing policy available for all staff to view on your school website? Do staff know what it is and where to find it?
10 Do leaders at all levels buy into a culture of efficient and effective resource management and understand the implications of their own day to day decision making?
Does the school business manager (or equivalent) or senior leader with responsibility for finance, regularly brief the rest of the senior leadership team regarding budget updates, future funding scenarios, potential areas of overspend/underspend and financial objectives of the school?
Do senior leaders feel shared ownership of the school’s financial health, financial leadership and financial success?
The key for schools is to regularly review and question their resource allocation to ensure it is as efficient and effective as possible and that it remains that way. If schools become complacent it is easy for standards to slip. Regular questioning and self-review ensures you are getting it right or you know what to change if you are not. Even high performing schools should not be afraid to make changes in the interests of better resource allocation. This will promote sustainability of that high performance.
Governors have a key role to play in ensuring effective resource allocation. In our previous blog post “The role of the governor in forward financial planning” we highlighted that “governors are responsible for ensuring that the school’s strategic leadership secures a trend of continuous improvement in all aspects of school life, and in particular in promoting positive pupil outcomes”.
Whilst the governor role is not operational, it is important that governors are “aware of the school’s current financial position and future potential budget scenarios in order to provide adequate challenge and support schools to ensure financial sustainability into the future”. This involves more than simply ensuring a school is not in danger of deficit. Effective governors challenge and support school leaders to allocate resources in the most efficient and effective way to improve pupil outcomes.
Which leads us to the most important question to remember in any resource based decision:
“What IMPACT will this have on pupil outcomes?”
Through guided, rigorous and honest self-reflection comes informed strategic planning and a sustainable cycle of continuous improvement. This is surely an ideal every school should strive for, to better the life chances of the children in their care.