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Our 9 tips for success with a tight school budget

Cherryl Drabble

Cherryl Drabble is assistant headteacher at Highfurlong School, an Outstanding-rated special needs school in Blackpool. She is the author of the book Supporting Children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (Bloomsbury Education), and has a Masters in Inclusion/SEND. Cherryl also holds the roles of CPD leader, initial teacher trainer, NQT mentor and assessment team leader.

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Image credit: www.highfurlong.org. Image credit: www.highfurlong.org.

Managing the school’s budget is arguably one of the hardest tasks a headteacher has to get to grips with. Children’s education is on the line, and more than that, people’s livelihood is also at risk if the head cannot manage their budget successfully. With ever decreasing funding available to schools, headteachers have had to become increasingly creative in order to fill the gaps in their budget.

At our special school in Blackpool, headteacher Rosie Sycamore is a shining example of how to be creative and bring in more finances for the children and young people we are responsible for. Here are some examples of how she extended the budget when she first became headteacher.

1. Spending

One of the first things she did was to remove all the departmental and class spending allowances. These were a real luxury, but were not spent wisely. Teachers often had stockrooms full of Blu-tack, display paper and other stationery items waiting to be used up. A central storeroom was created, and a teaching assistant was put in charge of ordering stock for the whole school. Just enough items were ordered for immediate use, and when stocks were running low a new order was raised. This resulted in an instant huge saving.

2. Budgets

Rosie’s next task was to look at the previous budgets and see where improvements could be made. She requested the site supervisor check all external contracts and ascertain if we were getting the best value for money. There’s no point in keeping the same suppliers just because we have always had them. More savings resulted from this task.

3. Staffing

A top tip is to look at your staffing; in particular, your senior leadership team. Do you really need a whole array of top leaders earning vast amounts of money that could be better spent on the children? Put your trust in your staff and you will not need as many senior staff checking up on the teachers and support staff. The loss of one DHT will result in a saving of thousands of pounds per year.

4. School census

The school census was scrutinised, and the needs of our current cohort of children was established in terms of large expenditure, such as with technology. Edtech is a big consideration in a special school, as many of our children require high-tech items that sometimes cost thousands of pounds. Money was set aside for these items, and that allowed Rosie a clearer picture of the school’s finances. There is also a need to be practical in a special school. It is a terrible time for all concerned when a child passes away, but this too has to be planned for. With the loss of a child there is also often the loss of a teaching assistant, and that directly impacts upon the education of the rest of the children. Rosie keeps aside a set amount of money to deal with such a crisis to avoid this.

5. CPD

Continuing professional development (CPD) and staff training is something we value highly at Highfurlong. We invest heavily in this as we believe that highly-trained staff are key to delivering the outstanding education our children deserve. We are part of the Fylde Coast Teaching School Alliance, and as such our support staff and teachers attend bespoke courses for free. Several of our teachers also deliver courses for the teaching school, and this means that all partners benefit from free, top quality CPD. More money saved.

6. Pupil Premium

Pupil Premium is used wisely rather than simply funding an extra teaching assistant. For example, we have used it to train all support staff in certain interventions that will directly impact on the education of all our children. It has also been used to fund training for a teacher to attend an expensive course, and then return and cascade the information to all others. This results in the whole school being trained at a fraction of the price.

7. Renting

A further way to bring in extra resources is to rent out our hydrotherapy pool to private customers. During lunchtimes, after school and during the holidays, our own children aren’t able to access the pool. The school has several trained lifeguards, and some of these volunteer to work the extra hours; this brings in quite a large amount of extra revenue. It’s also very good for community relations.

The school minibus is also made to earn its keep. At weekends we have discovered that there is a large number of people who require a minibus for various reasons. It may be for taking their family to a wedding, or for moving items of furniture. It really doesn’t matter to us, but it helps to bring in extra finances for the school.

8. Sharing expertise

At Highfurlong we are a centre for excellence for augmentative and alternative communication (AAC). Our staff are so highly-trained that they attend conferences and deliver training for others. We are also a hub for the local area. This means that we are able to pass on our expertise to private people and companies, and of course we are able to make a small charge for doing so. Every little helps!

9. Charities

Lastly, we have discovered that there is lots of money available from charities. You have to be prepared to put in some work to find the correct charities and to fill in the forms for the bids, but it is well worth the effort. Our new school has some wonderful resources provided by charities. Our interactive sensory room cost over £35,000, and was funded via this method. Similarly, our brand new hydrotherapy pool has state-of-the-art lighting costing over £20,000, also funded by a charity.

Our mission

At Highfurlong we are very proud of the way our school is run. Everything Rosie Sycamore does is for the children, and all money generated goes straight to providing the best education possible for our children and young people.

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