Your guide to schools’ financial benchmarking

blank Maddie Kilminster - 20 April, 2021

Category : Blog

Your guide to schools’ financial benchmarking

What is financial benchmarking? Financial benchmarking means comparing your finances with other schools and academies who have similar characteristics and challenges. Areas that schools often compare are their income, expenditure, balance and workforce with either schools of a similar size or within their Local Authority (LA). Why is financial benchmarking so important for schools? We’re

What is financial benchmarking?

Financial benchmarking means comparing your finances with other schools and academies who have similar characteristics and challenges. Areas that schools often compare are their income, expenditure, balance and workforce with either schools of a similar size or within their Local Authority (LA).

Why is financial benchmarking so important for schools?

We’re all aware of the widespread funding shortfalls in the education sector, and it’s definitely a challenging time to be a budget holder in schools and Multi-Academy Trusts (MATs). In recent times especially, schools have had to be even more resourceful with their budgets to adapt to the challenges of Covid-19.

Managing the school budget is a balancing act between lots of different factors, with a high level of scrutiny from Governors, the LA, Ofsted and the DfE. To make the right decisions when planning an effective budget, it’s vital to see how this year’s spend not only compares to previous years, but to other schools too, so you can see what’s working and where you could direct your resources more efficiently. 

Financial benchmarking can also help you identify areas where you could cut back on spending (e.g. building improvement) in order to allocate more resources towards your curriculum initiatives or support for students and staff. This kind of analysis will be useful in shaping your school development plan.

How to benchmark your school’s financial data

First, for financial benchmarking to be most effective, make sure you comparing against schools that are in either the same geographical area as you, are a similar size (in terms of staff and students), have a similar demographic cohort of students (e.g. proportion of FSM, Pupil Premium and EAL), as well as student attainment. This level of comparison gives you the best chance of learning from how these schools are managing their finances. 

Second, when you look at your data, bear in mind some key questions: 

  • If your expenditure differs compared to other schools, in what areas?
  • In what other areas do you differ that could account for this difference? 
  • Is there a similar trend year on year? If not, why not?
  • What does the comparison tell you about your differences in approach or spending priorities?
  • What can you learn from other schools’ approaches? 

The DfE’s schools financial benchmarking service compares the spending, staffing structures and performance of all schools in England each year. You can identify schools like you, then reach out to them for advice via their websites.

How should you use your data?

Once you’ve looked into your benchmarking data, you should evaluate how this data will help you make the best budgeting decisions. Your Governors will be interested to know how and why your financial approach differs to similar schools, and how you plan to redirect your resources to support better outcomes for students. 

Why not present a benchmarking report to your Governors at the next meeting? Some Management Information Systems (MIS) like Arbor MIS have a benchmarking portal, which allows you to compare your school’s behaviour, attendance, attainment and school context data to national averages at key points in the year. This gives you useful context to support your budgeting decisions.

Financial benchmarking reports from Arbor

At Arbor, we create Financial Benchmarking Reports each year for every school and academy in England. The reports give you an overview of all your income and expenditure over the past three years, with comparisons against national financial results, schools like you and others in your local area.

Arbor Financial Benchmarking reports are visual and easy-to-read PDFs, with helpful commentary and colour-coded stats, giving you reliable evidence needed to drive forward budget planning decisions. Perfect for presenting at Governor meetings.

Simply sign into your free Arbor Insight portal to download your copy of your latest report:

  • Schools Financial Benchmarking (SFB) Report – with latest 2019/20 data
  • Academies Financial Benchmarking (AFB) Report – with latest 2019/20 data*

*Out soon! Watch this space

Over 10,000 schools and 300 trusts have been using Arbor Insight over the last four years to benchmark their performance, dig deeper into their results and shape school improvement. Arbor Insight helps you focus on what matters, with intelligent dashboards showing your attainment, attendance, behaviour and school context data from the last 5 years. And it’s free!

We update your dashboards every academic year with your latest ASP data from the DfE. As soon as you log in you’ll see your headline performance measures benchmarked against your student groups, national averages and local schools. Click on any measure to uncover which student groups are driving over or underperformance.

Discover more about Arbor MIS

If you’d like to find out how Arbor MIS could transform the way you work for the better, join our webinar series, which includes live demos, as well as sessions walking you through how we move schools to Arbor and work with you to drive long term impact. Check out what’s coming up and book your spot.

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