According to a report published by the Education Policy Institute (EPI), schools that have converted to academies since 2010 have seen some of the biggest reductions to teacher spending – but why is this? and what does this mean for Multi-Academy Trusts?

Could it be the result of substantial cuts to funding? Or rather, a change in approach to workforce management?

EPI Head of Research Jon Andrews notes that Multi-Academy Trusts (MATs) may be achieving efficiency savings as a result of implementing curriculum-based financial planning.

This would suggest that such cutbacks could well be the result of a change in approach to workforce management and deployment.

Whatever the reasons, it’s clear that MATs can make significant savings should they manage their budget effectively and prioritise spending.

But in the face of scant resources and ever-shrinking budgets, this is no easy task. Considering these challenges, how can MATs implement a successful approach to budgeting?

Just in time for the end of the financial year, we’ve put together some helpful advice on how you can best set about fine-tuning your budget in the months ahead.

A Beginners Guide to Budgeting for Multi-Academy Trusts

SWOT Analysis

One of the best places to start is a SWOT analysis. To carry this out effectively, you’ll need to consider opportunities and threats, as well as strengths and weaknesses.

Furthermore, you should consider these 4 elements not only at trust level but also concerning each respective academy. This will enable you to better identify any trends and patterns, ensuring you gain invaluable insights.

Then it’s time to look back at budget monitoring records for the last full year. Again, comparing results between academies can be particularly fruitful.

Adopting a more holistic approach will enable you to identify any weaknesses that need addressing much more effectively. By the same token, it can also serve to highlight areas of effectiveness which can then be used to inform best practice.

When analysing financial reports, it’s important to be critical. You’ll want to consider the impact of external variables, such as unavoidable budget cuts, alongside any discrepancies that have resulted from a lack of financial control. You can then decipher how you best go about preventing further unnecessary pressures in the years ahead.

All in all, this degree of self-assessment will enable you to identify areas where you have continued to overspend, and hence identify potential savings in the process.

Most importantly, it’s always worth keeping efficiency at the forefront of your mind. When considering which areas of the budget need a more in-depth review, a good starting point would be to make the easiest improvements first.

Forward Planning

It goes without saying that futureproofing is also incredibly important. If your MAT is growing, it’s integral you understand how your budget will be affected as you scale up.

You’ll also need to consider wider environmental factors, such as changes in the curriculum, and the impact this is likely to have on your spending.

Besides the most obvious factors, it’s also worth considering wider issues, such as pastoral care, health and safety, and attendance.

Looking to the future, you may even want to consider income generation. While this can be frowned upon by staff and governors, given the uncertainty about future funding, it could make a welcome difference.

Workforce Management

Workforce management is a massive factor when it comes to managing total spending. Not only do you need to consider the number of staff; how they are deployed, and the level of pay should also take top priority.

When it comes to the deployment of teaching staff, we’re sure most secondary academies will be familiar with Integrated Curriculum-Led Financial Planning (ICFP).

For any who aren’t, ICFP is an approach which is readily used to determine the right mix of staff for the desired curriculum. It considers metrics such as contact time, average teacher costs and class size.

As such, it provides schools with actionable insights, enabling them to achieve efficient staff deployment.

One of the biggest challenges MATs face in terms of staffing is staying on top of any internal changes, be it staff turnover or restructuring.

After the initial TUPE review, MATs have full accountability when it comes to pay levels and responsibilities, so it’s integral that any changes or inconsistencies across the trust are accounted for.

What’s more, there’s no avoiding the ongoing controversy concerning executive pay. As a result, be sure to keep a close eye on the size and cost of your leadership team and continue to evaluate whether it’s fit for purpose.

Finally, amid ever-increasing levels of teacher stress, it goes without saying that staff wellbeing is incredibly important. Therefore, you should continue to review the processes you have in place to reduce the pressures and stresses your staff face and protect against burnout.

Implementing new measures, such as a wellbeing audit, may help you to gain a stronger sense of the needs of your staff across the trust. This will then better inform training and development requirements.

Striking the Right Balance

But what should you do if you’re struggling to keep your budget in check?

Ultimately, the DfE only accounts for cumulative deficits at the trust level. However, it’s still highly important you have a reliable recovery plan in place if you want to better protect individual academies in deficit.

If the trust itself is facing up to being in deficit, you will need to get in contact with the ESFA. Depending on your circumstances, you may well qualify for additional funding.

If not, you may have to act on a Financial Notice to Improve, which can involve the withdrawal of delegated powers.

All in all, taking pre-emptive action to protect the financial security of your trust, such as the measures outlined above, should stand you in great stead when it comes to maintaining a good handle on your budget.