When the going gets tough, the SBM gets on with it.
I’ve been involved in school finance for over 10 years now and each financial year often brings a different and challenging set of parameters in which to make the money last from April to March.
Whether you, as in previous years, have managed to have been able to create a healthy carry-forward that has stood your school in good stead for the forthcoming year ahead, the days of such luxury seems to be coming to an end. Remember this:
Being able to maximise your budget to successfully achieve all that is expected, has and will become more difficult as the next few years come to pass. All talk of additional funding by political parties’ remains, in my opinion, just talk until it actually happens, and as someone born under the star sign of Virgo, I remain critical of “false promises.” Operating within your means has always been one of my main mantras.
In my particular case, I have always wanted to get the main players of school finance in my school “on board” from the outset. Lack of control on spending, however small, can result in a catastrophe at the other end of the financial sum. Without reinventing the wheel, many professionals will already operate to their own procedures, controls, audit, even legislation and the law, but many in positions of authority do not always share these values or qualities and will be happy to spend their way out of a situation without discussion, dialogue or explanation. However, it is important to remember that one of the key strengths for SBMs is not knowing all the answers to questions but never hiding away from asking the important or difficult ones.
Educating the educator in terms of budgetary and financial control within schools remains essential. Remembering that other members of the SLT may not be as financially astute both in terms of experience and knowledge as you, is why the SBM is in the vital role of managing this vital area and is lead professional in communicating their wisdom to others.
Today’s senior leaders may be tomorrow’s headteachers/principals, and many new headteachers/principals feel a sense of uneasiness when handed a multi-million pound budget to control on day 1 of their post. SBM’s are in a unique position to influence colleagues in the key strategic aspects of school finances during their time as a senior leader. This shared approach can lead itself to mutual beneficial reward and also be favourable to sharing the load and allowing informed discussions when important budget/financial decisions have to be taken.
NASBM clearly demonstrate this in their Professional Standards, finance being one of the key principles.
In my own experience, I know I have got the message across, if, when the spending of money is concerned the Head will say “that’s seems ok but before I commit I will just check with Andy?” Not that my methodology is fool proof but it does mean that the prospect of money being spent unwisely or when it doesn’t exist or funds are low, is drastically reduced.
By having this top down approach, the “spending of money” approach filters down through SLT and into faculty and subject head meetings. The culture permeates through all levels and becomes school culture.
This said, I know sometimes it isn’t quite this straightforward and easy for a process such as this to be followed or adhered to in school, particularly when staffing implications are seen, quite rightly in most situations, to be the overriding factor when dealing with budgets and ensuring that the school remains solvent isn’t quite given the importance that is held by the school finance professional.
In whatever guise you operate in your school: School Business Manager, Director of Finance and/or Operations, Chief Operating Officer or Chief Financial Officer, I would always have the following points in mind when dealing with anything of a budget or financial nature that will have an impact on the school (which usually means everything!):
- lead a culture of value for money across the whole school community
- display the highest levels of financial integrity at all times
- consistently demonstrate your understanding of financial policy and procedures and as a minimum, be able to successfully signpost staff to accurate information and colleague support
- demonstrate your own understanding of the VfM concept
- impart the concept of VfM to others in their application of it by role-modelling behaviour, explaining the reasons for decisions and challenging others to make decisions on the same basis.
By Andy Heron - June 2017