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Four tips for improving financial sustainability in schools

February 2, 2024, 9:51 GMT+1
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Four tips for improving financial sustainability in schools
  • Increasing costs and limited support add up to significant challenges for headteachers – here are some strategies that can help...
Four tips for improving financial sustainability in schools

Four years ago, we grappled with the extraordinary tribulations of a global pandemic. Now, the education sector continues to feel its aftershocks and faces some of its biggest financial challenges in decades.

Jeff Marshall, managing director at J&G Marshall Ltd and chair of governors at a primary school, told us:

“Individual schools, with diminishing support from an authority, are on their own, and they still have these increased costs for energy. Per-pupil funding isn’t going up at the same rate as it should be, and on top of that, they have salary increases. You can imagine some schools are thinking ‘What do we do? How do we overcome this?’”

Well, we hosted a panel discussion where Jeff & Lord Jim Knight discussed exactly that.

Our panellists shared insights on financial sustainability in schools and their recommendations for strategic action. Read on for their top tips…

1 | Data is king, use it wisely

Instead of repeating last year’s approach, utilise your data to begin thinking afresh about things.

Take budgeting, for example. It’s no easy feat. And the goalposts in education never stay still for long.

That’s where data wins.

Lord Jim Knight, director of the board of trustees at E-ACT, tells us they have ‘looked back at data’ and began to use it in smarter ways to support budgeting.

“We’ve looked at how we might predict what the patterns of other income might be through the year. We’ve allocated that at the beginning of the year, even though we don’t have 100% confidence that it’s going to come in. We can’t be certain, but in every likelihood, it will.

“Our appetite for risk changed, but our use of data – really importantly – changed. So, we are now able to plan for the money we know in the end will come in through the year.”

Equipped with data, schools can effectively harness the power of insight to enable long-term, strategic planning, and ensure they’re prepared to respond well to any changes in the education landscape.

2 | Learn new ways to supplement your income

There are ways that a school can increase its income throughout the year. And it all comes down to thinking outside of the box, or learning best practice from your peers.

Jeff told us, “We now generate a lot of money from a dance and drama club, and we’ve had a few weddings of ex-pupils who wanted to use the school, because that’s where they met. Then, we listened to what our parents wanted, which was wrap-around care, 8am–6pm, 50 weeks of the year.

“Now not every school can do this, and we’re very thankful and humble that we can. But we reviewed ways that we could provide this at a maintained primary school – extended services, nursery, hiring it out.

“There are other things that all schools can do to look at income generation. Even state, small, one-form entry primary schools can learn from other schools and find something that’s bespoke to them. And if they can’t, they can’t, but at least give it a go.”

3 | Focus on the quality of governance

When you’ve got governance right, and governors are asking the right questions (informed by smart use of data, human intelligence, and external factors) you continue to provide a sustainable level of quality and avoid common mistakes.

Jeff tells us, “If we have the right people with the right skill set and the right mindset sat around the table, making the right decisions for the right reasons, we end up making better decisions, and better decisions lead to better outcomes for children. But, we also create better outcomes for staff and parents – our biggest stakeholders.”

So, it’s vital that schools review their governing body. Understand the quality of governance and the skills you’ve got on your team.

Ask yourself questions like, Do we have the right mix of people? Have we got the right turnover? Do we have a joined-up approach?

And if you’re not hitting all right notes, ensure you’re using open recruitment to build a strong, diverse group of people to support sound decision making.

4 | Talk to and learn from others

You don’t know what you don’t know, which is why it’s vital to lean on your peers – whether that’s other schools, multi-academy trusts, or even agencies.

In addition to the alternative streams of revenue discussed above, there may be initiatives or schemes you’re not aware of that other schools like yours are utilising.

Take the Department for Education’s Energy Bill Relief Scheme, and Find a Framework, for example.

You can objectively learn from other people to ensure you’re running as tight ship as possible. And your fellow educators love to share success.

By taking full advantage of the resources that are already available to you, from staff to students, and committing to a long-term plan, you can help safeguard the future.

To catch up with the full conversation, watch our webinar on-demand.


  • IRIS Financial Planner supports schools to navigate the complexities of budgeting in education.
  • IRIS Education drives simplicity in everyday school management, with MIS, finance, communications, and HR & payroll systems.
  • We are the proud partner of 12,000+ schools.
  • We already work with 75% of multi-academy trusts.

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