Budgeting During A Pandemic

May 13, 2020 | Finance Posts

Trying to balance your budget at the beginning of a new financial year is stressful enough.  

Then throw in a global pandemic, enforced school closures, lockdown and home working into the mix and you have stress levels that go through the roof.

In this blog I am going to let you know how I have juggled all of the above, a teenager and a two year old!

Don’t sweat the small stuff.

First off, everyone is in the same boat.  Everyone understands.  

Especially when your two year old wants to get involved in SLT Zoom meetings or smother herself in ALL the Sudocrem, while you reply to an email.  Then your teenager doesn’t see the point of Google Classroom or even getting out of bed! In fact, we have all commented that it is actually nice to see into each other’s lives.  Kids, cats, dogs and all.  This has given us all an insight into each other as people outside of work, and what external factors we have to deal with when we are at work.

My budget has been especially difficult this year as we are expanding to a third site.

This will eventually take our school to being a 18 form entry secondary and 3 form entry primary – the largest school in the country.

So what are the problems I face and how do I overcome them?

1. Staffing and Recruitment

I work very closely with the deputy headteacher. From January we make sure we have regular meetings to discuss staffing.

As we are expanding he has been able to give me an idea of the number of teachers required in each curriculum area. Personally I tend to then budget for “a teacher” at an M6. I find this gives me some wriggle room when it comes to employing teachers depending what scale they are on. I also make sure that I budget on the assumption that all staff will secure their pay increment, which means that I never find myself in a situation where I have underestimated staffing costs.

Staffing is the one area of the budget that frustrates me the most.

It can quickly change or you can receive a resignation you wasn’t expecting. I find that throughout the year this is the one area I am constantly changing and updating. This issue has raised its head even more in the current situation, as teachers that had planned to emigrate or leave have now decided that they would like to stay or withdraw previous resignations.

The uncertainty that everyone faces has had a massive impact on how we plan for staffing this year, especially on how we are recruiting.  We are not in a position to be able to see potential candidates teach and interviews have had to take place over Zoom.

As we all know, the usual time to start receiving resignations or retirement letters is May.  However in the current climate our headteacher took the decision to email all staff and request that if they were intending to leave, they informed us as soon as they could. This has helped me and the deputy headteacher tremendously this year as we have been able to get a little bit ahead of the game.

2. Service Level Agreements 

Luckily this year we had already taken the decision, due to the expansion, to remain with all our current providers.  This meant that I didn’t have to obtain the dreaded 3 quotes! 

If you haven’t already, I would suggest that you seek approval from your governors to do exactly the same.

I can’t imagine that walking another heating engineer around the boiler plant in the school is top of everyone’s priority list at the moment. However, if you are in a position whereby you need to obtain 3 quotes, it may be easier for you to ask your current provider for their scope of works and ask for like-for-like quotations. 

3. Departmental Budgets

Every year in February, I request that all curriculum subject leaders complete a budget bid.  This will outline what resources, training or reprographics may be required in the coming financial year. SLT usually then meet to discuss the requirements and make an informed decision on what allocation will be made to the curriculum area.  The meeting will also include Curriculum requirements  and the average of the last 3 years’ spend. I then issue a letter informing subject leaders of their allocation.

Happily I can report that this process has not changed this year; it only became a bit more complicated due to the fact that I had to ask curriculum leaders to submit bids for an entire new site. 

The fun will start in this area when I start placing the orders.  For example, I have already been made aware that IT equipment is an issue as, yes you guessed it, the majority of it is imported from China!

Back to blackboard and chalk it is then!

4. Projects

As we all know some projects are planned and some are forced upon us!

Like for example the “wet bandits” breaking in and flooding the school, forcing me to attend site at 5.30am in my PJs, not the most professional look.  Or the down pipes getting blocked causing two-week long ceiling leaks, or perhaps the toilet floor lifting right down the middle in a perfect line for no apparent reason! As we all know though, you cannot account for these things happening and the site team and I now believe there is something wrong if it’s all running smoothly. 

What I will say though is plan for what you can.

I always have a 5 year plan for my sites; even if it’s not a formal plan written down, I know what needs doing.  I know what’s a red, an amber and a green and I build this into my budget accordingly with a contingency for those unexpected events.

5. Governors Approval

Well what can I say Zoom, Zoom, Zoom!

This app has become a way of life for me. Although I’m not so sure that the governors would be so tolerant of toddler interruptions, so I am going to have to think of a contingency plan for this one! The only answer is that I will physically go into work for some blessed peace and quiet; who would have thought work would bring peace?!

My plan for this meeting is to give the governors an update on the current situation with the budget and last year’s outturn, before requesting approval in an email to submit to the local authority.

I then have a mammoth pile of paperwork for signing when things get back to normal, which will be who knows when!

In the meantime I will leave you with some of my top tips for budgeting.

 

Emily’s top tips for budgeting:

  1. Good budgeting software

  2. Open, honest discussions with your Headteacher 

  3. Regular communication with SLT, curriculum leads and site staff 

  4. Make an early start

  5. Plan for worst case scenarios

  6. Make sure your SLAs are in order

  7. Departmental budget planning 

  8. Five year Project plan 

 

About Emily Lines

One of our part time consultants Emily Lines graduated with a degree in School Business Management in 2014 and is currently the School Business Manager at Robert Clack School, where she has worked for the past five years. Prior to securing this role, she worked as a business manager at one primary school and an office manager at another.

In all, Emily has over 14 years’ experience of school administration management and leadership and is well placed to offer advice to SBMs in both primary and secondary settings.

 

To find out more about how we can help your school or academy with financial consultancy contact us here.