17 Mar

Graham
I’ve had an interesting week trying to understand the financial and logistical challenges our schools and organisations will face over the next few years. On Thursday I was asked to Westminster to represent special schools in a meeting with the Department for Education and ministers.

The backdrop is fascinating. We have growth in all our schools, pretty much across the country, due to many and various factors – an increase in birth rates generally, enhanced medical interventions and improved early diagnosis of certain conditions, notwithstanding the more restricted curriculum and challenging assessment models presently applied in mainstream schools.

One of the government’s responses to a number of educational issues is to consult on a revised funding formula. The proposed formula has run into a political maelstrom with some government backbenchers presently lobbying for changes. Many schools are talking about having to make staff redundant or not being able offer certain subjects. They literally do not have enough money.

It is sometimes difficult to see what the reality feels like for schools and organisations – I will put forward our position. I believe that for the last few years our schools have been funded relatively well. We have been able to bid for initiatives to enhance our offer and schools like ourselves, that have acted in an entrepreneurial way, have been able to enhance both the curriculum and the extra curricular offer. We have actively promoted a period of growth (our Multi Academy Trust, Free Schools, Teaching School etc.) to safeguard our young people and staff team from the financial pressures we now face.

So this leads us to where we are now. There are ‘hidden’ costs that do make a mockery of the government’s assertion that there is more money in the system than ever before (perhaps that’s because there are more children!!). We have had to absorb an increase in employer pension contributions and a hefty National Insurance hike, along with a newly introduced apprenticeship levy. On top of this there have been the increases we have all felt in relation to gas, electricity, water and all other utilities. To help put this in context, if we hadn’t expanded our Group 3 years ago we would have been facing a financial cliff edge. We have continued to work tirelessly to bring down our costs but when 85% of our budget is spent on the workforce, the pressures listed above become very real.

Our Group has always prided itself in having, and in being able to attract, experts in financial planning to ensure we are appraised of the logistical and financial projections for the upcoming 3 years. We will be able to manage this period of ‘central’ turmoil because we have planned effectively.

We are, however, becoming slightly anxious that more and more is expected of our schools as universal providers. We now offer breakfast clubs, after school clubs, holiday clubs, we are pastoral support workers, administrators of medication and first aiders. The range of skills that our staff are now expected to have is becoming wider every year.

I think we will have an interesting few months as the political elite wrangle about how we slice up and distribute the pie. Maybe we should try to make the pie slightly larger? Surely appropriate investment in our children and young people is at the top of most people’s agenda!

Have a great weekend,

Graham