December 2014

The know zone

  • Number lessons
    ASCL’s new training DVD aims to give people a deeper understanding of budgets and balance sheets and so help avoid clashes over spending, says Val Andrew. More
  • A window on work
    Karleen Dowden offers five ways that schools and colleges can bring students together with employers to gain insights into the working world. More
  • To grade or not to grade?
    Tony Thornley shares his insights into what an outstanding school looks like and why best practice demands more than ticking Ofsted’s boxes. More
  • Maximise the benefits
    Are you and your staff getting the most out of continuing professional development (CPD)? More
  • ASCL PD events
    ASCL PD runs a number of CPD courses to help school and college leaders motivate their staff. More
  • Last word
    No one in their right mind would join a club and sign up to its regulations and then claim that the rules don’t actually apply to them, would they? So why do some people think that instructions issued by schools can be treated in such a cavalier fashion? More
  • Stronger together
    Exploring how one charity believes it’s possible to rebuild the lives of both bereaved pupils and schools. More
  • Unbalanced view?
    Workload is becoming an increasingly serious problem in schools and colleges. What is your view on this important issue – do you have a healthy work-life balance? Is an increasing workload something that is affecting you and your staff? Here ASCL members share their thoughts. More
  • Leaders' surgery
    More than half of ASCL members are now in academies and many are from independent schools – this month, the hotline has taken several calls from members in these sectors. Below are just a few of the questions our hotline staff have answered, although clearly in the answers there are messages for all members regardless of sector. More
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ASCL’s new training DVD aims to give people a deeper understanding of budgets and balance sheets and so help avoid clashes over spending, says Val Andrew.

Number lessons

Watching a documentary recently about Gareth Malone trying to get a choir of celebrities singing harmoniously for Children in Need (Gareth’s All Star Choir) reminded me of the necessity for all the key players in school to be singing from the same financial hymn sheet.

Those last minute and often impossible demands for an ‘absolutely essential’ resource that wasn’t budgeted for and that can’t possibly be managed without have challenged business leaders regularly and been the root cause of many a fractious conversation. The need for some common understanding of financial targets and the use of a language that everyone is able to engage with has long been a core message at the sessions ASCL runs on strategic financial management. Now we are sharing those lessons in a way that, we hope, will be useful to members for in-house training.

We have produced a set of DVDs of our strategic financial management course based on work done by former Funding Specialist Sam Ellis, Deputy General Secretary Malcolm Trobe and me over the past four years. The idea was to provide short films for use along with some spreadsheet resources for training either with governors, the leadership team, middle leaders, budget holders or anyone who needs to understand some core financial principles that support the business management of the organisation. Technically, this would allow members to deliver financial training in their own schools with the added advantage of being able to add in some specific school or local context.

Short inputs

Each video features a presentation followed by a series of discussion questions. The videos are supported by a set of detailed notes, and copies of the presentations are included with the package, as are the spreadsheets. The format is designed for short inputs, either in a twilight meeting or even as one element of a governing body meeting. The topics covered include:

  • the idea of a financial view that is good enough for a strategic approach without getting caught up in what, to some, is confusing financial detail
  • use of a common language, so all key players in a school are working together with terms that they all understand
  • identification of and implementation of a set of critical variables that may help balance the books
  • use of a minimum number of simple financial targets that link to the curriculum and that a leadership team and governing body can use to ensure that decisions do not tip the school into insolvency
  • use of simple overview spreadsheets to contextualise senior team and governor strategic planning

The idea that the deployment of teaching staff accounts for the largest element of expenditure is covered in some detail. We attempt to hone this whole area down to a few ideas that can be common to all the senior team.

One key theme is to try to establish a way of working in the current financial climate that means that decisions are informed by the reality of the budget – rather than having an unrealistic budget compromise in an attempt to achieve what we would like to do in an ideal world.

The future is anything but predictable in financial terms – for all types of school – as we head into the next few years. There is no way of knowing what decisions will be made following the General Election next year. In the pipeline at the moment is an increase in on-cost for teaching staff, and there are probable further increases in on-costs for all staff to follow. Whether or not these will be funded for schools is unknown. At present, schools are expected to absorb inflationary budget pressure from a funding base that is basically static at a per pupil level.

Challenging drop

In the case of the additional costs that academies are required to meet, the education services grant (ESG) is falling from about £140 per pupil to £87 per pupil, in some cases with some protection. Nevertheless, for many this will be a challenging drop in overall funding.

We know nothing of the future of the Pupil Premium beyond the next election, nor do we know whether education spending will be protected in any sense after next May.

One unfortunate consequence of difficult financial times can be misunderstanding and subsequent discord, especially within leadership teams where the pressures of making very difficult decisions can be onerous on all concerned. We hope that these training materials will help people avoid that type of situation and support coordinated thinking and approaches to the financial challenges that lie ahead.

For more information about the DVDs, including costs, email

For information on other training materials and courses, including details of our bespoke consultancy services, contact ASCL Professional Development on

You can contact me directly at

Val Andrew is ASCL Business Leadership Specialist