Let’s keep it simple!

Finance is being made overly complicated and scaring people away from getting involved, says Julie Ricketts, director of operations at Kingsthorpe College in Northampton

For most SBLs, budgets and finances are constantly on the mind. Part of our role is to make sure that our schools are getting best value for money across all areas and that every penny really does count! However, as each year passes and this becomes harder and harder, the natural instinct is to hunker down and take this responsibility solely on our SBL shoulders.

We all feel the burden of making sure our learning and teaching colleagues don’t feel restricted financially, and are able to access all the resources they need to make sure our students are inspired and motivated. It’s very easy, in a climate of high financial pressures, to adopt a ‘no way’ attitude to new financial requests, but this attitude can encourage a culture where staff stop asking and thinking ‘What can we do differently?’ – and that is dangerous for both student outcomes and staff morale.

Empowering budget holders
As director of operations and finance of a large secondary school, and CFO of our trust, I strive to ensure that all our budget holders feel empowered to spend their allocations in the ways that they feel would make the most impact to our students.

When budgets are tight it’s more important than ever that finances are kept simple and not made so complicated that colleagues are scared away from getting involved, or innovation and new ways of working are limited.

How many times have you heard colleagues say ‘Finance is complicated, I’m not sure I understand it’, before changing the subject? Whilst I’m not suggesting that academy financial reporting isn’t complicated at times, and extremely time-consuming, the day-to-day financial processes within schools should be kept as simple as possible so that everyone can be involved.

With previous financial experience of working in commercial environments, I’m conscious not to use jargon that could make others feel they lack understanding. I’m sure we’re not afraid to ask when we come across an acronym we’ve not seen before, but would non-finance colleagues do the same? Assume they won’t, and keep it simple! When everyone starts to question ‘What impact will this purchase order bring for our students?’ you start to see real change and then, truly, every penny will count. We can’t do this, single-handed, as SBLs; we need all our budget holders to feel the same – to feel they can make a difference.

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Making every penny count
As ‘finance people’ we can, all-so-easily, get lost in the numbers and the bottom line but every day we need to remind ourselves what those numbers can do to change the lives and futures of our students for the better. So, let’s keep it simple, get everyone involved and accountable, and let’s make every penny count!

It’s also now that we need everyone within our schools to think differently and find new and inventive ways to look at finance – but maybe that’s a conversation for another day…

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