Navigating budgetary turbulence for school financial success

Julie Cordiner: Navigating budgetary turbulence for school financial success

The Stage 2 consultation on the national funding formula has been published and while it brings with it some clarification schools are still battling with unanswered questions, inconsistencies and turbulent financial times ahead. Here Julie Cordiner, education funding specialist at School Financial Success, looks at the facts and what you can do to future-proof your school budget in uncertain times
At last the Stage 2 consultation has been published and we have a little more information about the direction of travel for school funding, at least over the next two to three years. And therein lies the problem; only a little more information and too short a timescale for a strategic financial plan. These are turbulent times indeed, with changes everywhere you look.
There are the externally imposed pressures – to perform (with changing assessment measures), to make curriculum changes and to survive Ofsted inspection, which could result in structural change – academisation, or a change of sponsor.
Then there are internal changes to deal with – increasing rolls, rising SEND, recruitment and retention issues, cost pressures and so on. When you add major changes to funding into the mix, we could be heading for the perfect storm.
There have been opportunities to tackle the unfair funding system before, when there was extra money in the system, but now money will be taken from ‘better funded’ schools to make good the shortfall elsewhere. No wonder the terminology has moved away from a National Fair Funding Formula!
The government’s illustrative allocations provide some indication of what lies ahead, but these must be treated with extreme caution because:

  • they are for consultation purposes and could change;
  • they are calculated as if the NFF was introduced in 2016/17 (October 2015 data) – but the 2018/19 formula will use October 2017 data;
  • local authorities (LAs) will still operate a local formula in 2017/18 and 2018/19;
  • 2020 brings a new spending review period and a general election; affordability will need to be reassessed
  • LAs can still move money from the Schools Block to the High Needs Block.

So how do you regain some control and forecast future funding to construct a financial sustainability plan? At School Financial Success, our approach is simple: combining roll predictions with per pupil funding predictions produces a range of future funding scenarios, forming the basis for multi-year budget projections. The worst-case scenario uses the minimum funding guarantee for per pupil funding.
If the groundwork is done in advance, once decisions are announced, school leaders can pull the most relevant plan off the shelf and start implementing it straight away. Moreover, having thought out a strategy, opportunities such as staff turnover that arise can be considered in the light of the agreed vision for the budget; this could be crucial in enabling a school to make early savings which do not put outcomes at risk.
The financial sustainability plan becomes a blueprint, providing evidence of thought processes, key assumptions and data which can be presented to governors, triggering in-depth discussion and challenge, leading to an agreed strategy to secure a sustainable budget.
Julie is presenting at EdExec LIVE North in Manchester on January 18. In her session Julie will dissect the NFF with the precision of an experienced SBM and provide practical solutions to the question: how do you regain some control and forecast future funding to construct a financial sustainability plan?
She will share with delegates the approach she sets out in, A Helping Hand to Secure a Sustainable Budget – an eBook and tools which Julie developed in collaboration with her partner at School Financial Success, school business director Nikola Flint.

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