Diary of a headteacher: There simply isn’t enough money

Written by: Diary of a headteacher | Published:
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Trying to protect education provision and staffing levels are two priorities for school leaders, but when budgets are so painfully and obviously insufficient, it leaves us with no easy answers...

School budgets are a major headache for headteachers. It is one of the key aspects of the role of a head, but it is, in most cases, the part of the job that most of us are the least prepared for.

We are teachers by trade, not accountants, and it is not until you sit there in the headteacher’s chair and hold the responsibility as chief accounting officer that it really dawns on you that you are responsible for successfully managing the multi-million pound budget that sits open on your Excel spreadsheet.

If that wasn’t hard enough, couple it with a huge paucity of funding and you are left with an extremely challenging situation for experienced heads, let alone new ones.

Completing the NPQH or other leadership qualifications does not prepare you adequately for managing a school budget successfully and I have found that the best way of getting to grips with it is to roll your sleeves up and get stuck in.

Utilising the support mechanisms available in school is crucial, as is appointing a good business manager. Also, if you have governors with relevant financial experience and expertise then this is a real bonus.

As a head, managing the school budget for the first time can feel a little bit like muddling through and hoping for the best. However, it is not rocket science and I like to distil the processes of budget-setting, monitoring and projecting into simple components that can be easily understood by governors and other leaders in the school. The problem is, there simply is not enough money.

It is no secret that funding is a major issue for schools at the moment. This isn’t a new problem through – ever since I took up my first senior leadership post in 2010 I have been involved in a series of redundancies and restructures, all of which have been challenging and upsetting for everyone involved.

Removing certain staff roles from a school, reducing resources and decreasing educational provision all save money, but they detract from the experience our students receive and of course it means a termination of employment for staff.

It dents the morale of a school and the level of uncertainty over job security can mean that your best staff end up leaving.

Our school budgets are so painfully insufficient that it is incredibly difficult for even the most prudent of business managers and heads to balance the books.

I find myself trying to identify how we can project our school budget for the forthcoming years without setting a deficit budget. This is a real challenge.

Spending the academic year scrimping and scraping to try and make the necessary in-year savings is no way to run a school, but neither is perennially cutting away at staffing levels.

The harsh reality at the moment is that most schools simply cannot afford to operate in a way that enables them to provide an adequate level of staffing to deliver the education they want for their students.

Over the last few years I have had to make so many redundancies that I worry about the impact this has had on the mental health of my staff and students. If a school cuts the pastoral support staff then are students going to receive sufficient levels of support in their holistic development? If a school cuts administrative staff will this mean a significant increase in the workload of teachers? If a school restructures the leadership model will there be enough people to steer the ship?

These are questions I know many heads will be asking themselves and, the problem is, there are no easy answers because there is simply not enough money.

  • SecEd’s headteacher diarist is in his fourth year of headship at a secondary school in the Midlands.


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