Management Information System (MIS) for schools
Arbor Community | MATs
Category : Blog
The cost-of-living crisis has had a huge impact on schools and trusts. It’s left budgets squeezed and puts even more pressure on schools to divert their resources to where it matters most. While the government gave an additional 2.3 billion to schools in England for each of the next two years (in Dec 2022), the
The cost-of-living crisis has had a huge impact on schools and trusts. It’s left budgets squeezed and puts even more pressure on schools to divert their resources to where it matters most.
While the government gave an additional 2.3 billion to schools in England for each of the next two years (in Dec 2022), the extra funding takes spending in 2024 back to the same level as in 2010. It follows real-term cuts of 9% per pupil between 2009 and 2019, the steepest reduction in more than 40 years.
And while the share of total spending on education has been falling, the proportion of the UK population in full-time education has risen from 18% in the early 1980s to an all-time high of 20% during the 2000s, where it remains today. This is undoubtedly an incredibly tough climate for schools to operate in.
With that in mind, we’ve brought together the expertise of three trust leaders on how they’re approaching the cost-of-living crisis.
In our trust, we have a lot of families who we would refer to as just about managing. As is typical in a faith MAT, a lot of the families are not eligible for Free School Meals, they’re not eligible for Pupil Premium, but they are living really close to the edge, so it’s making sure that those families are supported.
I know the government is very keen on economies of scale. Our focus is on actual school improvement, making sure our schools are excellent and that there are development opportunities for our staff, so that we become an attractive employer through training, through developing our own teachers. This means looking into offering teacher training programmes and apprenticeships for our support staff, for the staff on fractionalised hours, term time only. We want to work with our schools to talk about innovative approaches like annualised hours. TAs may only be earning 13,000 or 14,000 pounds a year with little opportunity to do work in the time when they’re not employed. So looking at whether they can work a longer week but earn a full time salary so that their salary is more liveable. So there’s loads of strands that are going on in terms of how we manage budget pressures.
We’re fortunate in that our schools have all had good reserves and we have managed to maintain those reserves and increase them over the past two years. What we’re now looking to do is use some of those reserves to do things like employ therapeutic staff or specialist staff, partly to support those pupils, but also to make sure we can lever as much funding from local authorities as we should be getting.
In terms of taking a sector wide view, we’ve seen real term per pupil cuts over the decade. And I think what’s made that worse is, as well as actual school funding being cut, we’ve seen a 20% cut in real terms per child in wider children’s services. I fully 100% support the idea that in the public sector we should be looking at every single pound that we spend, but this idea of doing more with less is fairytale. You wouldn’t go to a supermarket and ask to pay less for the same amount of goods as the previous week.
In schools, two thirds of spending goes on teachers and support staff. So if you’re looking at doing more wiht less, essentially you’re saying that your teachers and support staff have to work harder, faster, longer. And is that really what we want for one of the most imporant parts of the public sector? I don’t think so. Theres going to come a point where, and many would argue that we’re there already, there’s literally no fat to get rid of.
And we’re also operating within a context where teacher retention, or lack of it, is at a critical point as well – ultimately as a result of pay and workload. At the Education Policy Institute, we believe two things should be looked at further: differentiated pay and flexible working. It feels to me that there are some easy wins there, when operating in such a challenging context.
At our trust, we’ve seen a significant increase in those who are able to claim free school meals. The funding for PPG will not come through until later, so there will be a lag. As a result, we’re focused on making sure our planning is on a one, two and three year basis. In terms of our staff, we operate and signpost a number of food banks across the trust and we’re seeing in a trust of 900 staff, 6% of our staff are accessing food banks.
Of course, we focus on our pupils, but our own staff are suffering from a cost of living crisis that plays out strategically in recruitment and retention issues. But it also plays out in a rural trust such as mine – a member of staff recently told me that the cost of fuel is a barrier to coming into work. That’s just one of the things that we are facing in our wider ecosystem that we possibly haven’t come across in decades. There needs to be a reconceptualisation, therefore, of our role in being there to safeguard and support our staff across the trust.
We’re also looking at what we’re able to do with the third sector. I think in our country, what is incredible is the amount of work that goes on in the charity space and first sector space. What is sometimes less effective is bringing that together into a real network so that everyone makes sure that we understand where the gaps and overlaps of provision are. So truthfully, I think as a multi academy trust, where we find ourselves in a budget position, this isn’t about us stepping into a breach financially because we’re just trying to pay our own bills. We need to better direct some of that focus in terms of strategic planning and look at it through the lens of what our pupils need, what our staff need, and how we engage in a wider community space.
This article is an excerpt from a panel at ArborFest, Arbor’s annual conference where we bring our community of schools and trusts together. Find out more about ArborFest here.
Want to see how your MIS could save your trust money and time? Our recent report takes a look at the return on investment that schools and trusts can get from Arbor. Download it for free here.
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