With increasingly stretched resources and demands on teachers’ time showing little sign of abating, school management teams are facing major challenges to deliver a broad curriculum on time and within budget.
A 2018 report from the Institute of Fiscal Studies highlighted the huge increase in the complexity of education budgets since the 1990s, with drastic shifts in how government funds the sector, and this is only likely to increase over coming years. The reality is that most schools now work with reduced budgets and growing class sizes.
For schools, academies and multi-academy trusts (MATs), this creates a challenge when planning budgets and allocating resources. As staff costs account for an average of 80% of school revenue expenditure, it is no surprise that the DfE believes that greater efficiencies can be achieved through better staff deployment, with curriculum-based financial planning a method promoted by academies minister, Lord Agnew.
The approach focuses on schools and trusts integrating the planning of the curriculum with their budgets in order to balance efficiency with educational outcomes. At a time when costs continue to rise and funding is reduced or static, this enables the curriculum to be future-proofed against any uncertainty. For recently converted academies or rapidly growing MATs, the need for greater efficiencies is often far more pronounced to cut the risk of costs spiraling out of control.
One challenge frequently encountered by schools is the time-consuming and inaccurate methods of costing alternative curriculum models. When a new model is required, it can often take finance teams up to two days to prepare, without considering the time to communicate the findings to head teachers and governors.
By investing in the latest technology, such as Access Education Curriculum, an education-specific resource planning tool, schools and academies can speed up the process to offer accurate costings within minutes, meaning that alternative options can be tested and discussed within meetings with their senior leadership team.
During conversations with senior leaders in schools, academies and trusts, many attribute more robust financial management processes, as well as improving exams results, in part to a move towards a curriculum-led approach to budget planning.
This approach means that, as well as helping to build a viable curriculum, they can quickly model the outcome of potential changes and opportunities as they arise, enabling the senior leadership team to make effective decisions on staffing and the curriculum.
For example, when student numbers or state funding changes, the impact it will have on staff loading can be assessed within minutes, resulting in more informed recruitment decisions.
By providing more certainty, schools simply have to look at what resources they have spare in order to inform headteachers about any unplanned opportunities.
With pressure on budgets unlikely to ease in the near future, it is essential that schools, academies and trusts become more innovative to deliver an effective curriculum without causing financial harm in the future. Those schools investing in their infrastructure will stand to benefit from testing more curriculum models and, as a result, will maximise their resources and deliver results.