What I Really Think About…The New Funding Formula Proposals
Let's spend what we need to run a successful school and let the government sort out the rest
Confused? Irritated? Weary? Welcome to the world of strategic financial planning.
Firstly, let’s deal with the unknown. Well, to put it more accurately: the half-known.
From April to March your whole life is split into two parts: bean counting and magic bean counting.
In terms of the former, expect to squint at spreadsheets as you try to follow the various lines of spending to see if you’ve overspent on the figure you guessed at back when you originally set it.
‘Could you explain why your supply budget is 75% more than you predicted?’
‘Because a lot of people got ill.’
‘Didn’t you account for that when setting the budget?’
‘I was told that I was in danger of setting a deficit budget so I cut it and hoped for the best.’
‘What happens now?’
‘Well, the upshot of having no staff is that the photocopier was left alone. We’ve saved £14 million pounds on toner.’
Managing the existing budget is so like ‘swings and roundabouts’ that there is little point trying to find an alternative idiom. As long as you are boring and predictable, and ignore your spam email, you should be able to land your budget.
The real headache comes from trying to predict what next year’s budget will be like. In reality, and whisper this, nobody ever knows until it’s too late.
Oh, you can run models and listen to the news headlines, but all you’ll get from that is a light case of cardiac arrest.
I’ve literally lost and gained thousands of pounds (as in sterling), over the course of a few hours, purely by running the same information through a series of different formulas. So, what can you do? Well, like all good dark-fumblers, you go gently.
There’s a big difference between sharpening the knife and actually making a cut.
The worst thing you could do is cut so fast and deep that you are either unable to function as a school, or end up making irreversible changes that you will live to regret.
This sounds so obvious on paper, but when you are staring at the potential black hole of your predicted deficit it is so tempting to try and hack everything away until all that’s standing between you and 400 children is the caretaker and a pile of textbooks that nobody can remember ever using.
Going gently doesn’t mean it is comfortable, but you have a responsibility to trim the fat without cutting into the pig. And you certainly don’t cut the pig before you’ve weighed it.
So that is my sage advice: don’t go mad and everything will be fine.
A word of warning though – none of this applies for the next couple of years, because, quite frankly, we’re bust! Our coffers are as bare as Ebenezer’s wallet when it’s time for his round at the pub.
The chancellor of the exchequer organised a work placement for Edward Scissorhands at the treasury and left the DfE’s books on the table with a note saying, ‘Knock yourself out, Teddy!’.
There hasn’t been this little money in education since the NUT organised a whip-round for Michael Gove.
In fact, the only way schools will be able to afford to heat their classrooms next year is by burning Michael’s gifted King James Bibles one page at a time.
Schools are about to become so short of money that they’ll soon start collecting sports vouchers to pay the PE staff. There’ll be more money down the back of the staffroom sofa than there will be in the budget and the phrase ‘carry forward’ will soon become extinct.
For once I fear that the news of drastic cuts coming our way is not just doom and gloom. Forget making do with less; schools will soon be making less with nothing.
So, what do we do? I should advise shrewd and decisive financial strategy, but instead I say why bother? Let’s just spend what we need to run a successful school.
Let’s all plan deficit budgets. And I mean ALL of us. And don’t bother with a three-year saving plan. Let’s give the government that job. Let us tell them what we need and let them respond appropriately. And by that, I of course mean give us our money!