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Last updated on 22 March 2018
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How can schools be more efficient with the staffing budget? The largest proportion of any school’s budget will be spent on staffing, so we look at how schools can achieve best value for money. We relay advice from a law firm and FASNA, and include case studies from secondary schools and a MAT.

This article includes references to commercial service providers. Their inclusion here is for your information only and is not a recommendation from The Key.

Staff contracts

The Key's State of Education survey

Our State of Education survey found that 31% of school leaders expected budget pressures and lack of funding to be the biggest challenge for schools over the next 12 months.

Our survey represents the views of more than 2,000 school leaders and governors among our members. For more insights into what those at the front link think about the state of education today, and how they think this will develop, read the full report here.

In this section, Naseem Nabi, a partner at Veale Wasbrough Vizards law firm, suggests ways that schools can maximise the value achieved from their staffing expenditure.

Naseem provided the advice at an event run by the National Association for School Business Management (NASBM), now known as the Institute for School Business Leadership (ISBL), in 2016.

Fixed-term contracts

Schools looking for staff to take on a specific project could use fixed-term contracts.

Naseem noted that schools should seek legal advice on how to ensure the contracts are genuinely fixed for the desired term, so there is a clear procedure for when the contractual period is over.

Contractual changes to allow flexibility

Schools should review staff contracts to ensure staff can be shared between schools where necessary. If this is not allowed at present, this provision could be added in the form of a ‘flexibility clause’.

Naseem emphasised that this should be done in collaboration with the affected staff and should be discussed with teaching unions.

Staff deployment

In February 2016, a researcher from The Key attended an event run by Freedom and Autonomy for Schools – National Association (FASNA) about school finance.

At the event, two school leaders and FASNA consultants discussed how schools can save money through effective financial planning.

The speakers strongly recommended looking at how staff within a school are deployed. In order for staffing to remain cost-effective, schools should aim for at least 78% of available teachers (including the headteacher and other non-teaching senior leaders) to be teaching at any time. 

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Spending on staff: advice

The speakers at the FASNA event recognised that schools’ expenses are now significantly higher than they have been in previous years, and that the staffing budget in most schools is rapidly rising.

They suggested that schools where staffing costs account for 80% or more of the overall budget will struggle not to fall into deficit in the next few years as costs rise, and stressed the importance of forward planning at least two or three years ahead.

Share staff and facilities

The speakers also advised schools to collaborate with other schools by sharing staff and other resources to reduce costs.

Primary schools, in particular, could make significant savings in overhead costs through joint purchasing or by sharing staff and facilities. This collaborative model is more common within multi-academy trusts (MATs), but there is no reason other schools cannot also take advantage of such an arrangement.

The speakers suggested looking at particular at members of support staff, such as school business managers, and considering whether they are needed in one setting on a full-time basis or whether they can spread their services across multiple schools.

The Key has an article with more information about cost-effective staff deployment.

Consider roles and responsibilities

Matthew Wheeler, the business manager at Bordesley Green Girls' School and a fellow of NASBM, spoke at The Key's school business management conference in October 2015.

He said that effective staffing expenditure means thinking carefully about staff roles and responsibilities.

For instance, leadership teams should be kept small and should focus only on learning outcomes for pupils. Paying a large team of senior leaders to carry out operational duties, such as administrative tasks, is not an effective use of funds.

Another article from The Key relays advice on how to achieve a cost-effective support staff structure. It also links to information about research and strategies on the effective use of support staff, and features a downloadable support staff salary cost calculator.

Case studies

We contacted several schools to find out how they have increased efficiency within their staffing budget.

Christina Washington is the chief financial officer of St Bart’s Multi-Academy Trust. She explained that the trust and its sponsor, Belgrave St. Bartholomew's Academy, underwent a period of restructure as a result of the increased costs of employer national insurance and pension contributions.

She spoke to us about the steps the school has taken to reduce the impact of these costs on teaching and learning.

Moor End Academy, a secondary school in Kirklees, achieves the top efficiency rating in a set of statistically similar schools, according to the Department for Education’s (DfE’s) financial efficiency metric tool (linked to below).

We spoke to Jane Acklam, the executive principal, and Roz Batley, the director of operations and finance, about the systems and processes the school has in place to help ensure spending is efficient.

We also visited Preston Manor School, an all-through academy in Brent. Since 2012, the school has implemented a series of measures that have resulted in sustainable savings of £500,000 a year, on a budget of around £14m.

We discussed this with then headteacher, Matthew Lantos, and with Greg Foley, the former finance and business manager, who worked with the school on a consultancy basis.

Below, we explain some of the initiatives that the schools have implemented.

Recruitment processes

Jane and Roz stressed the importance of questioning the school’s norms when looking for ways to increase efficiency.

They explained that Moor End Academy saves time and money during the recruitment process by asking parents to be lunchtime supervisors, and by encouraging staff members to ‘refer a friend’ during recruitment rounds.

The school has found online recruitment services and web-based advertising of vacancies to be less time-consuming and more cost-effective than paying for printed adverts.

Succession planning and evaluation of roles

Jane advised schools to reconsider every staffing role that becomes available and re-evaluate whether it is necessary to the school. It may be more efficient to fill a vacancy with a supply teacher for a short period rather than rushing the recruitment of a permanent staff member who may not be suitable.

She said that effective succession planning also helps Moor End Academy to save money on recruitment.

The school developed a succession plan that sets out how it will respond to staff absence lasting three days, three months, or three years. The plan is intended to help assess whether additional training and support is required to prepare other staff members to step into each role.

Considering contracts

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More on saving money

Christina Washington told us that changes to staffing expenditure alone are not enough to sustain the schools within St Bart’s Multi-Academy Trust over a three to five year forecast.

The trust is also looking at making savings through bulk purchasing, adjusting its maintenance programme, and hiring out its premises.

For more ideas to help you make the most of your school’s budget, see our articles on maximising financial efficiency and improving the efficiency of catering services.

We also have an article that looks at generating additional income.

Greg explained that a number of support staff at Preston Manor used to be on full-time contracts despite the fact that they were not expected to work during school holidays. The school moved staff in this position to term-time only contracts, which led to further savings.

Matthew explained that this was initially unpopular with some of the staff affected, but that once they understood the change was being made for the benefit of the school and the pupils, they became more accepting.

Christina suggested that where schools need to take on additional staff, they should consider whether this could initially be on a fixed-term contract.

Working with other schools

Christina said that sharing staff and working collaboratively with other schools is an effective way of spreading staffing costs.

She noted that St Bart’s Multi-Academy Trust has found this strategy to be particularly successful with business managers.

Restructuring administrative support

Greg told us that Preston Manor had achieved savings of £155,000 by restructuring its support staff.

This involved the removal of 3.5 support staff positions. Greg explained that the school had managed this without being left short-staffed by ensuring that the remaining staff were highly skilled technically. As a result, the school is gradually moving to high-calibre administrative support, with skilled individuals who are expected to work to stretching targets and outstanding standards in the same way as teachers.

This has created opportunities for career development for those in administrative posts, while significantly reducing the school’s costs. It has also allowed the school to put greater emphasis on succession planning for support staff.

Another of our articles relays expert advice on restructuring the support staff team.

Trainee teachers, NQTs and graduate interns

Moor End Academy thinks strategically about where to place trainee teachers

Jane said that Moor End Academy thinks strategically about where to place trainee teachers to ensure that teaching resource is used most effectively. Christina at St Bart’s Multi-Academy Trust recommended filling teacher vacancies with newly qualified teachers (NQTs) where possible.

Preston Manor takes on graduate interns. These are well-qualified and skilled individuals on lower salaries than would be paid to more experienced candidates. Greg stressed, however, the mutual benefits of the arrangement: many of the interns are keen to gain experience in a school setting, as they want to eventually become teachers.

As an extra benefit, the school allows individuals to spend time in class-based roles if they wish.

Addressing staff absence

Preston Manor reduced the cost of bringing in supply staff to cover staff absences by £225,000 per annum by reviewing the application of the staff absence policy.

Matthew explained that simply drawing the staff members' attention to their own absences, where these were frequent, had an immediate impact. The school also began to scrutinise frequent absences more carefully. This meant that it could better support staff in need.

Greg emphasised that early intervention, such as making appropriate adjustments to the working environment, had helped to reduce absence. It also enabled the school to support those who were not fit for work by, for example, ensuring that referrals to occupational health were made early.

Matthew told us that the school chose to stop offering paid leave for religious absences. Staff were still free to take unpaid leave for religious events, but Matthew said that many chose not to do so.

You can access the DfE’s financial efficiency metric tool here:

Cost-effective CPD from The Key

At a May 2016 conference on school funding, a NASBM fellow said that in-house delivery of continuing professional development (CPD) can help schools save money.

The Key has developed a CPD toolkit to help school leaders deliver flexible, high-impact training in school.

For more information about the CPD Toolkit, visit the website below, or call us on 0800 060 7737.

This article was written in response to feedback from the school business manager of a large urban secondary school in the south west.

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