Making your budget go further

Written by: Kaley Foran | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

With the new National Funding Formula delayed, financial uncertainty continues for schools. Kaley Foran offers seven ways in which to stretch your budget further

One of the main challenges facing schools in 2016/17 is that of tightening budgets. In January, a survey of school leaders by The Key revealed that 43 per cent of secondary school leaders expect budget pressures to be their greatest challenge in the year ahead.

But what impact can school leaders expect the proposed National Funding Formula to have on their school budgets?

When the NFF is introduced, every mainstream school and academy in England will be funded on the same basis, using a formula that combines school-level, pupil-level and area-level factors to set allocations. This replaces a system based on local priorities and historical patterns of spending. The idea is that the NFF should make it easier for schools to predict their funding levels from one year to the next.

As you might expect from a formula set nationally rather than locally, some schools are likely to benefit, while others are expecting to see their funding reduced.

However, while initially planned for 2017/18, the introduction of the formula has now been delayed until 2018/19 meaning that the financial uncertainty looks set to continue for many schools.

So, how can you improve financial efficiency in the meantime? There are no quick-wins when it comes to saving your school money, but if you are feeling the pinch this year, here are seven things to consider that could help you to maximise your school’s current resources and make your budget go further.

Benchmark your spending

Using the Department for Education (DfE) benchmarking tools for maintained schools and academies (see further information) can help you to compare your school’s expenditure with similar schools. If you are spending thousands more on catering than another school your size, these tools can help you to figure out why.

Don’t stop there, though. Use the DfE’s financial efficiency metric tool to find schools with similar characteristics to yours. You then have the option to share information with those schools about everything from purchasing to staffing structure as a way to identify possible savings.

The school timetable

Make sure your timetable represents value for money. With the wide variety of different qualifications and curriculum requirements to juggle, timetabling in secondary schools can be a challenge. However, making sure that your timetable represents good value for money can bring about valuable savings. Be sure you are using your staff effectively and to full capacity, that your curriculum offer is coherent, and that your courses are financially viable. If you are looking for inspiration, the DfE has published a case study from a school that improved its timetabling and, as a result, its financial position (see further information).

Make sure staffing is efficient

Staff are the biggest asset (and cost) in any school. Make sure you are getting the most out of your precious staffing resource by optimising staff contact time and reducing spare capacity. Where vacancies arise, schools should carefully consider whether replacing a member of staff “like for like” is the best approach, or whether it may be more effective and cost-efficient to alter the staffing structure. Investing in staff, through training, is another way to improve financial efficiency. Highly skilled staff represent better value for money.

School-to-school collaboration

If it is proving difficult to offer a wide range of qualifications, get your staffing levels right and keep control of your budget, why not consider working with other local secondary schools to provide your preferred offer in a more sustainable way?

For instance, if your school wants to offer GCSE Italian, but doesn’t have enough students for a full timetable, consider whether you could group together with other schools in the area to share staff. This arrangement works particularly well for those in multi-academy trusts or federations, but it certainly isn’t limited to such schools.

Manage contracts/procurement tightly

Procurement is another area where working with other schools can pay dividends when striving for greater financial efficiency. This is because higher purchase volumes or contract amounts achieved by groups of schools can lead to savings that a school may not otherwise be able to secure individually. However, getting a good deal is only the start: review contracts regularly, be clear about your requirements, and run tenders that can help you compare suppliers, products, and services. One school in Newham saved £10,000 on school milk by reassessing its needs and carefully researching suppliers.

Reduce waste

Some up-front investment in reducing waste can help save money in the longer term. Could you fit rooms with sensors so that lights turn off when no-one is there? Could upgrading double glazing and insulation help you save on heating bills? You might also consider changing processes for printing and photocopying to encourage less waste.


Fundraising can be much more than fetes and carnivals: there are many ways schools get creative and draw on resources in the wider community for extra income. For example, try approaching a local shop or restaurant to see if they would consider donating a portion of their profits for certain items. You could also encourage parents to earn cashback for the school through the purchases they make online.

  • Kaley Foran is a senior researcher specialising in school funding and finance at The Key – an organisation providing leadership and management support to schools.

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