NON-TEACHERS WEEK: The School Finance Director | @miconm

non-teachersNon-Teachers Week is a chance for Labour members and supporters who work in education, but not as a teacher, to express their views. If you wish to join in, details are here.

Micon Metcalfe is Director of Finance and Business at Dunraven School and a member of the DfE Professional Development Expert Group. She has recently been made a Fellow of the National Association of School Business Managers. 

View from the SBM’s office

I have worked in the ‘back office’ since 1998 when schools had already had 10 years of Local Management. I am now the Finance Director of a large all-through converter academy and look after the finances, operations and support services. The main functions of my role have remained broadly the same, albeit the scope and regulation has increased. What should Labour be looking at on the business side?

School Structure and Oversight

All state funded schools have the same inspection and accountability measures in terms of standards and achievement. This means that there is very little room for ‘local democratic accountability’. The nature of the accountability system makes our schools highly centralised in terms of the way they operate – regardless of structure.

The current Regional Commissioners have too great an area to oversee and, until legislation changes things, are not responsible for maintained schools, so Labour’s proposal for Directors of School Standards makes sense in many ways. About 40 were proposed and they were geographically based but not Local Authority (LA) based. The distinction from LA Directors of Children’s Services is an important one. In many areas, children cross county and borough lines to attend school. Academy chains and multi academy trusts also frequently span regions. It is important that local or regional oversight takes account of this. I would also want Directors of School standards to critically assess the freedoms that Multi-Academy Trusts (MAT) have to pool the resources of their schools to provide support to those needing improvement. Schools within a MAT can appeal pooling decisions to the Secretary of State – it makes sense to have this as part of a regional oversight system. There is even a discussion to be had as to whether there should be more regional ‘say’ in school accountability measures and local funding decisions.

Funding and Finance

The first period of my career in school finance and business was under Labour Governments. This was a time of generous financial settlements, however, what was not reviewed and has still not been reviewed was how the school’s grant was allocated to LAs. This means that there is still a big difference in per pupil funding given to different LAs. This has been highlighted by ASCL here. It is really important that the differences in funding are addressed sooner rather than later and that there is a proper evaluation of regional cost pressures. What would, however, be disastrous would be the kind of levelling down to a national formula that we have seen in post 16 funding.

Economy and Efficiency

Schools are undoubtedly entering a time of great financial uncertainty. In spite of the pupil premium, education funding overall was cut by the last government and the current government has only committed to protect 11-16 per pupil funding. The cost of back office services in schools is firmly in the Chancellor’s sights. The assumptions about these costs are out of date and take no account of the additional administrative burdens placed on schools since the data was gathered. Nevertheless, schools do need to be clear that there is no waste in their use of resources and that processes and procedures are not unnecessarily wasteful of staff time. Central government collects a lot of data from schools but there is little useful, relevant and timely information available to draw many meaningful conclusions here. I remain to be convinced that large contracts necessarily deliver better value for money than small, locally sourced, responsive ones.

Staffing remains the biggest area of expenditure for schools with the majority spending 65-75% of all expenditure on total staffing and this represents on average 87% of recurrent per pupil funding. In the academy sector, MATs reducing non-teaching staff costs per pupil between 2013 and 2014. Staffing costs increased at a higher rate than inflation – which is an indicator that incremental progression was still occurring. (source Kreston Reeves Academies Benchmark Report 2015). The inflationary effect of increased teacher pension employer contributions from September 2016 is likely to force schools to review staffing structures to maintain an affordable staffing base.

The School Estate

The 80% cut to devolved formula capital and the hiatus to school building and refurbishment will leave a damaging legacy. The growing school-aged population means that available capital goes towards providing for basic need, meaning the essential work to existing schools get pushed down the line. The condition of the school estate will need addressing at some point.

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