As a Headteacher, your role requires you to know your budget inside and out. You, your governors and your SBM probably spend many hours discussing it and making decisions supported by the financial information that you have.
With the funding situation being so dire, you probably also find yourself in many situations where you have to say no to staff funding requests and try to balance the needs of your students with the constraints on your bank balance.
I don’t know anybody who signed up for the role of headteacher looking forward to, or feeling ready enough, to take on this level of financial accountability but this burden isn’t yours to carry alone. Sure, your name may be over the door but like Health and Safety, financial management is a whole school responsibility. Everybody has their part to play and everyone can contribute to the financial health of the school, it’s just a matter of teaching them how.
Ensure your School Development Plan is costed: Every decision you make as a Headteacher has a financial implication. One way or another, all roads lead back to the budget. When you’re developing your SDP with your SLT, use it as an opportunity to show them exactly how this works. An SDP should be ambitious but if the numbers don’t add up, it’s simply an undeliverable vision. It will also help your leadership team to understand your rationale in terms of decision-making. While they may be thinking of the short and mid-term objectives, you need to show them why the long-term objectives are just as, if not more, important and how strategic financial management supports this.
Weave financial management into regular meetings and discussions: Introduce half-termly budget discussions into your SLT meetings where you or your SBM talk through the management accounts and highlight areas of both capacity and concern. Learning how to read and interpret a set of management accounts is a key skill that all senior leaders should develop; sooner rather than later! Provide cost centre reports to middle leaders to discuss with their teams. When staff come up with ideas, ask them if they have investigated the cost of implementation. Today’s middle and senior leaders are tomorrow’s headteachers so exposing them to this level of financial knowledge and accountability will stand them in good stead for the future.
Promote the role of your school business manager: The perception of the school business manager can often be negative. They can be seen as ‘the person that says no’ or ‘blocks’ whatever it is that teachers want to do. By promoting the role and giving a clearer understanding of what it is that they do will add both context and support to the financial management of the school. Direct your senior and middle leaders to discuss their plans with the SBM before bringing them to you. Ask them to regularly evaluate their expenditure and support the school through cost-saving and income generation activities. With your SBM supporting the decision making processes of your staff, you will find yourself saying no a little less often!
Ask leaders to attend LGB and/or board meetings to observe: Many senior and middle leaders are not aware of the level of scrutiny a school faces in relation to financial management and accountability. By inviting them to observe this process in action, it will add context to the financial aspects of school management and help them to understand exactly what must be taken into account when making financial decisions. Also, it will give them an awareness of financial accountability to external stakeholders in terms of audit and compliance.
Involve leaders in the budget setting process: Putting together a budget is a complex task. There are many factors to consider including revenue and capital income, staffing costs and on costs, ringfenced and lagged funding and so on. By involving your leadership team in the detail of the budget setting process, you are actually showing them the bigger picture. This will enable them to operate more effectively on a day-to-day basis.
Make finance a whole staff topic: Include a slot on your INSET days to deliver a brief financial update to staff. The more that staff understand the financial position of your school, the more mindful they will be when making budget requests. Once a year, ask your SBM to do a more detailed presentation to staff about the budget, how it fits together and, ultimately, how the final figures are reached. Show your staff just how much money is left after staffing, building, utilities, catering and compliance are allocated. Increasing their awareness of the financial context of your school will help them to support you to achieve not only financial efficiency but also value for money.
Being a headteacher can be lonely at the best of times and the added weight of financial accountability can make it feel even more so, especially if your school is struggling.
Through educating your staff, you can create a support system and structure around you to help both lighten the load and reach your strategic objectives.
Why you should educate your staff about finance
- To prepare them for future roles by developing their knowledge and skillset.
- To teach them how to be financially strategic when it comes to futureproofing and forward planning.
- To secure collaborative working with key staff (your SBM) and external stakeholders (Governors/Trustees etc.).
- To understand the level of scrutiny and challenge that your school faces in relation to financial management.
- To understand the financial constraints of the budget and the rationale behind your decision making process.
- To increase their awareness of the financial context of the school in order to improve their own decision making and increase focus on value for money.
- So everyone can play their part to achieve financial efficiency and support the financial health of your school.
Laura Williams is an executive coach and trainer working with headteachers, SBLs and CEOs