Strategy in Schools – A View from Finance

November 28th, 2017

In many ways, resource deployment is where school improvement and finance meet. The door between back office and front office, if you like. This article is about strategy and resources, and is written from a school finance perspective. There are many approaches to resource deployment, but in this age of tightening budgets, you may want to approach it using the thought process laid out in this article.

What is the difference between a strategy, a plan and a process?

  • A strategy is what you want to do to move the school from point A to point B (i.e. to achieve an objective).
  • A plan is how you are going to do this. It will consist of a sequence of tasks.
  • A process is the specific steps necessary to carry out the tasks that are detailed in the plan.

For example, let’s suppose our objective is to improve our Ofsted rating from Requires Improvement to Good.

Our strategy would be to improve the quality of front-line teaching. It is worth noting that the strategy does not state how it will be achieved, merely what should be done. In reality there will be more aspects to this strategy but to keep this example simple we will limit it to one.

Next, we should consider our plan which is to divert more money to frontline teaching. The sequences of tasks involved in this are:

  1. Review overall staffing structure.
  2. Review contracts.
  3. Review school generated income.

Finally, we come to the processes. The steps involved to carry out our plan are:

  1. Review overall staffing structure:
    • Analyse spend on different staffing areas to determine the percentage of income for each one.
    • Determine the percentage that you need to spend on front line teaching. This is your target.
    • Decide whether front line teaching includes the SLT.
    • Decide how to reduce the other areas to allow you to have the required percentage in frontline teaching. Non-staff savings are easier to implement so start with these to see if they can enable you to reach your target. If not, you will have to come back to staffing and make changes there.
  2. Review non-staffing contracts:
    • Look at the possibility of using procurement frameworks.
    • Sign your school up to an SBM network so that the relevant staff can ask a wide variety of schools for best value suppliers.
    • Consider whether you need a particular contract at all.
    • For items that your school order regularly, consider whether you could order in bulk but less often, and at a better price?
    • Make sure you have a list of all contracts you are involved in, noting the value, expiry date and notice period. Set reminders in your diary to negotiate those contracts before entering the notice period.
  3. Review school generated income:
    • Is the school utilising all its assets for lettings?
    • Is the school maximising the use of clubs?
    • Does the school have any staff with specialisms that could be charged out to other schools as consultants?

The Education Endowment Foundation has some interesting research that could help with your staffing strategies. Another example of a school strategy is ways of encouraging high-achieving, disadvantaged pupils into higher education, found on the website.

How does strategy fit in with vision and values?

Vision and values sit above strategy (and objectives). They apply to the entire school, through and through, regardless of the various objectives. Moreover, they inform the objectives and therefore the strategies.

Vision is sometimes rolled in with mission and together they state the purpose of the school (what it exists to achieve) and a description of where you hope this purpose will lead (where you aspire to be).

Values are a way of defining the type of school you want to be. They show how you are going to operate, alongside the what and where of mission/vision.


How can things go awry?

The SLT and the governors will usually formulate the various strategies required to keep the school moving forward. The two main issues to watch out for formulating school strategy are:

  • Lack of Unity: Not linking strategies to the school improvement plan, and in turn not linking to your vision and values, can lead to the various strategies not being aligned with the overall vision for the school.
  • Lack of Sustainability: Not involving the SBM or Bursar in strategic discussions at SLT level can lead to decisions being made without them being properly costed. This can, in turn, lead to strategies that are not financially sustainable. Costing out school strategies and attending planning meetings is an important part of the SBM role. If you find that they are too busy to attend, they may need to work on delegating more of their day-day tasks.

When it is too late, and things have gone wrong financially, it is usually the case that either of these two issues were the source.

How can you improve your resource deployment?

There are many facets to this but here are some useful broad-brush action points you may want to consider:

  • Ensure that your vision and values inform your objectives, your strategies and your plans.
  • Go one step further and ensure that staff embody your vision and values in everything they do. Build this in to their performance management.
  • Involve finance at an early stage in staffing structure strategic discussions.
  • Ensure your SBM has systems and processes in place to effectively manage the resources under their control.
  • Ensure your SBM has access to adequate training and networking .

Author: Patrick Leavy, Finance Services to Schools

Octavo’s School Finance team are able to support the strategic planning in your school. For more information contact