Stretching school finances amid falling per-pupil spending

Published: Monday, 11 February 2019 17:14

In this article, primary school headteacher Helen Frostick outlines how her school revised its financial management in 2016–17. She details implementing new funding streams, ensuring that cuts are effective, and creating economies of scale.

 Summary points

  • Schools should not be embarrassed to chase up parental debt, as it all goes to benefitting pupils.
  • Revisiting existing agreements (for example, letting charges) can be helpful.
  • Although grant applications can be time consuming, they can pay off in a big way if you ensure that your goals are specific and measurable.
  • Where possible, try to build your SBM network and parental engagement to help with new savings and funding.

The amount of per-pupil spending in England’s schools has fallen by 8% since 2010, according to an analysis by the Institute for Fiscal Studies. In November 2018, the Chancellor allocated funds for the ‘little additional extras’ which schools are hard-pressed to deliver given the funding cuts to education. In the case of primary schools, it will equate to £10,000 per school once it has been divvied up. In the media there has been much derision about this, but it is better than nothing, and if added to the list of funding streams available to schools, it can help to bridge the funding deficit we are all facing.

This article charts the revised financial management of my school, St. Mary Magdalen’s, as we tightened our belts in the financial year 2016–17. We looked beyond the standard funding streams to ensure that we were still offering outstanding provision. The cuts we made then have set us up well for the future.

Create a strong debt recovery system

Small tweaks to systems and procedures can make a big difference. We operate a very tight debt recovery policy with a three-pronged approach to recouping outstanding parental debt. Our second administrative assistant monitors our online cashless payment system, Wisepay, as one of her primary job roles. She is tenacious and we have a 99% success rate at having all parental voluntary contributions paid.

Once a deficit in payment has been identified, the administrative assistant writes to the parent. Should that be unsuccessful, the letter is followed up with a phone call. If there is still no result, I telephone the parents myself. They and I find this very embarrassing, but I always prepare myself for the call by telling myself that we will not be able to offer the competitive education we do if we do not have the funds to appoint high-calibre staff and train them accordingly. We have to be equitable and it is not fair that some parents do not pay.

That said, we are supportive of families in need and we pay for them as the need arises, including all of our pupil premium plus (PPP) families. In order to reduce costs to parents for educational visits we supply free transport for these. We do all we can to keep costs down for our parents.

Consider introducing letting charges

Two years ago, we introduced letting charges for our external club providers, on top of asking them to provide two free places for our PPP pupils. We charge most clubs 10% of their revenue for using our school to facilitate their club on our premises. For example, if they charge £50 per pupil we charge them £5 per pupil.

Explore becoming a National Leader of Education

In terms of accessing grants, in 2014 I applied to become a National Leader of Education (NLE) and for the school to become a National Support School (NSS). This work generates a facilitation grant of £6,000 per year. This covers costs such as admin time, training and release time for the deputy headteacher. To apply, the headteacher needs to have a record of accomplishment of strong school leadership, with at least three years of headship experience. There also needs to be a record of accomplishment of providing effective school-to-school support that has led to improved outcomes for pupils over a sustained period.

Along with the staff at my school, I have supported schools in challenging circumstances for the past four years, and the daily fee is £550 for the school. NLEs work to increase the leadership capacity of other schools to help raise standards, and there is never a shortage of deployments.

Get creative about staff costs (without sacrificing quality)

Staffing costs amount to around three-quarters of the budget on average. Staffing cuts offer the highest budget reductions, but have to be considered carefully in order that provision remains outstanding. At St. Mary Magdalen’s, planning, preparation and assessment (PPA) time was over the recommended amount. We reorganised the timetable to offer back-to-back specialist, non-contact lessons, such as Italian and music, to give blocks of time to the teachers. We were then in a position to reduce two days of supply cover to one. Being a small school of 270 pupils, two days was enough to cover all classes.

Consider ways to increase parental contributions

Parental contributions through fundraising at St. Mary Magdalen’s is very generous. Most years the PTA raises £27,000, which for a school with only 168 families is outstanding. In particular, this funding stream allows us the opportunity to keep up to the minute with technology.

The PTA committee stands up at the end of class assemblies, when we have the best attendance of family members, and asks parents, on behalf of the school, to be involved in the fundraising endeavours. The usual cycle of cheese and wine social with classroom tours by the teachers, Movie Night, Quiz Night, Christmas Fair, Race Night and Summer Fair brings in reliable sources of revenue but, more recently, parents have also been contributing by buying a ticket even if they cannot attend.

Specify clear goals in grant applications

There are many grants on offer to schools, but it can be time consuming to apply for them. The applications for grants need to have clear goals. We recently received £25,000 funding for our playground from Sport England. Many charitable organisations offer support for pupils with economic hardship. In my location, this includes Richmond Parish Lands Charity and the Shanly Foundation.

The School Funding Network is also a valuable resource. Salix Loan is a company working with schools to save energy costs. The National Lottery has grants of £10,000, which can be applied for, but again the bid must have clear goals and intended results.

Use your network where possible

Finally, school business managers in our locality get together regularly for network meetings to share best practice and to benchmark trends in spending. Recently, the work of the school business managers’ network included a corporate purchase order for a lawyer to assist all schools with the requirements of the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) – money well spent.

Economies of scale mean that small, one-form entry schools are at greatest financial risk, so to have corporate buying power leads to good savings. Another example of this in action has been the shared licence for our assessment package for STAT Sheffield.

Further information


Use the following items in the Toolkit to put the ideas in the article into practice:

About the author

Helen Frostick is currently the headteacher of St. Mary Magdalen’s Catholic Primary School in the Borough of Richmond upon Thames, London. She is a National Leader of Education (NLE) for the National College of School Leadership, with responsibility for supporting schools in challenging circumstances. Helen regularly speaks at national conferences and specialises in pupil premium and safeguarding.


Last modified on Wednesday, 17 April 2019 09:02

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