Future terms: Budgeting for the unknown

Watch the fourth instalment of our Future Terms online panel series, exploring how schools can plan for financial challenges and adapt their ways of working.

This panel session aired on 25 June 2020. Watch the full recording below.



  • Bridget Clay - Head of Programmes for School Leadership at Teach First


  • Natalie Perera - Executive Director, Education Policy Institute
  • Jonathan Simons - Director and Head of Education Practice, Public First
  • Kim Shubrook - Achievement Partner for Leading Together, Teach First
  • Ed Vainker - Executive Principal and Co-Founder, Reach Academy Feltham


  • 0:01 - Bridget Clay introduction
  • 2:13 - Kim Shubrook opening statements
  • 6:25 - Ed Vainker opening statements
  • 10:22 - Natalie Perera opening statements
  • 15:04 - Jonathan Simons opening statements
  • 17:00 - Question: Any advice on looking ahead when there’s a lack of confidence in allocations on where new money may be coming from?
  • 22:20 - Question: What does that planning look like in this uncertainty? 
  • 24:40 - Question: Can you forsee schools spending additional funds on staff Continuing Professional Development (CDP)?
  • 26:00Question: What about line management and supporting staff?
  • 28:17Question: Staff will have their own personal needs in the midst of this crisis. How can we plan to support them?
  • 31:40 - Question: Do you think we’re going to see a long-term financial impact on schools that will affect staff recruitment and retention?
  • 33:57 - Question: How can we make sure that schools still feel they have the capacity to support trainees and early career teachers?
  • 36:10 - Question: The claim form for additional costs came out recently with new guidance. It’s likely we’ll all continue to have additional costs with no further suppport. Do you think it’s likely that the ESFA will look more positive in reducing reserves?
  • 38:42 - Question: Is COVID-19 going to wave goodbye to the planned teacher salary increases? Should we as teachers be anticipating pay rises when the country is entering recession, or does the situation justify them even more?
  • 41:10Question: There’s been a real variety in the challenges families have faced, including an increase in pupil premium students. How do you think this will impact schools?
  • 44:20Question: Early years has been particularly hit by this and we know that quality EY learning is essential to reducing the education attainment gap. How can we address this issue?
  • 49:07Question: Do you have any advice for governors or trustees steering spend on evidence-based strategies and collaboration with other schools?
  • 53:24Question: What are your views on the pandemic increasing opportunities for better school collaboration?


Many schools will have new financial and staffing challenges once pupils return. This discussion explored how schools can plan for this and adapt their ways of working.

The panel emphasised that now is the time to focus on the core business and maintain maximum flexibility. Budgeting is going to be difficult in the current situation, given increasing economic debt and uncertainty. The panel suggested schools create a short-term recovery plan for now up until Christmas, alongside a medium-term recovery plan with more flexibility. Running parallel to this, a section of the budget must be dedicated to the everyday running of the school, on things like quality of education, staff HR and wellbeing.  

With a spending budget in place, resources need to be saved until the full impact of the pandemic can be seen. For example, when schools reopen fully, pupils will inevitably need extra support - whether it’s academic catch up or pastoral wellbeing. This will likely be an extra cost to schools. The panel also expressed that many schools will have concerns over income generation. Though state-funded schools and academies will have had continued to be funded throughout the pandemic, many have had to increase spending to cope with these new challenges.  

Evidence shows there is a real gap between children from different backgrounds returning to school. Reach Academy Feltham reports that roughly 50% of pupils in prioritised year groups have returned (located in Feltham, West of Hounslow). In the more affluent east of the borough (Chiswick, Kew), that figure is 90%. To ensure pupils return, investment will be needed. 

However, while we are facing lots of unknowns over the coming months, there are things that schools can start to plan for. Before the pandemic, many schools were already facing financial pressures. Research by The Education Policy Institute shows that the proportion of local authority secondary schools in deficit has almost doubled since 2010. But this isn’t the case for all schools. Across all local authority schools, there’s almost £1.8 billion in surplus balances. This indicates that not all are facing the same degree of financial pressure. 

The government has allocated £80 per pupil to help with school recovery (derived from the £650 million announced in September). But there are complications to this - some of that money will need to be used to contribute to the cost of tutoring (if schools choose to buy into the new national tutoring programme). For an average secondary school, the money left over might just pay for a new teacher or pastoral worker, but probably not both. For a one-form entry primary, the money is probably not enough to pay for even part-time posts.  

Schools also need to reduce pupil exclusion: the most vulnerable kids are the ones most likely to be excluded, yet we cannot afford for them to miss out on more education. We also know that blended learning may need to continue for some time: if there’s a second wave, and for children and staff who need to continue to shield or self-isolate. This is likely to have an impact on supply budgets – so heads may need to consider increasing that budget temporarily. 

In order to for schools to focus on their core business and keep resources flexible, the panel suggested conservative spending on discretionary items, such as residential trips. It is still too early to pinpoint the exact needs of our young people, even though there is additional government funding and summer schools in the pipeline, so there needs to be flexibility. With this, schools can save budget for the needs of Year 11,  13, and the most vulnerable students once they become clearer. Schools also need to think about signposting struggling families to support resources. For example, Reach Feltham have families who are applying to Universal Credit for the first time – advice and relational referral from a trusted person, in a school especially, is very important. 

In order to effectively plan amidst the current uncertainty, the panel recommended looking at pupil numbers and forecast. This will allow schools to do core planning and cement per pupil allocations. Even with uncertainty about the wider financial picture, it is very unlikely that annual core school funding will dip significantly unless there is a significant dip in a school’s pupil numbers. The minimum funding guarantee provides some kind of annual protection. However, the panel predicts pressures in unforeseen developments, such as the removal of the Year 7 catch up premium. Headteachers should identify which parameters are likely to stay stable, and which could be moved – or in the very least, keep a close eye on potential risk areas. 

The experience of doing more work online opens up huge opportunities in the professional development market for schools, particularly high-quality access to CPD and ResearchED at home. There is also opportunity in the cover market. Schools have been struck by student ability to study remotely – platforms like Oak can give schools some options when it comes to supply and cover. There is also recognition that – subject to the rules about bubbles and pods – there is potential to be more flexible with group size.  

To support staff struggling with their own personal needs in the midst of this crisis, the panel suggested opening conversations in Senior Leadership Team (SLT) meetings. SLTs need to model support and communicate its availability. SLTs need to also support each other and address issues to the Headteacher. However, there needs to also be support made available for Headteachers from a government point of view, as many are highly stressed regarding the expectations placed on them.  

It is difficult to say if the pandemic will create a long-term impact on staff recruitment and retention. We are heading into what looks like a recession. Entry numbers into Initial Teacher Training (ITT) are up quite significantly (which is the usual trend approaching/during a recession).  The recruitment challenge that schools were facing this time last year looks to be easing off. At the same time, the challenge is keeping those teachers post-recession. The longer-term outlook for schools is that they should not expect a great deal more budget given they’ve been relatively protected to date. 

There is uncertainty regarding school capacity to support trainees and early career teachers during the pandemic. There is a moral argument that it is our collective responsibility to bring people into the profession and make that commitment to take trainees. However, many schools have focused on providing as much consistency as possible for pupils. Particularly in primary, that mitigates against taking trainees. 

The claim form for additional costs came out recently with new guidance. It is likely schools will all continue to have additional costs with no further support. The panel expressed it is likely that the ESFA will look more positive in reducing reserves. The question is distinguishing between reserves for capital investment that are genuinely going to be repeatable and reserves to cover recurring costs. For example, if a school thinks that because of shielding, they will need one additional member of staff FTE, it is not a good use of reserves. A better use would be investing in things like broadband internet. Trustees and headteachers should be thinking very hard about how to use this, because this is precisely the rainy day which reserves are for. 

To the extent the government has made a commitment to the new £30,000 teacher starter salary, the panel agreed if it is not legally impossible, it is certainly politically impossible to go back on this promise. The current theory of public spending dictates we should only have the exact number of teachers we need on the exact salary. After the pandemic, this will likely change.

There has been a variety in the challenges families have faced, including an increase in pupil premium students. To change that, schools need to work very hard to mitigate their concerns and signposting support. However, there is a bottom line for increasing eligibility for pupil premium. In primary school, one extra pupil premium pupil is worth £1,600 for the next six months - Reach Academy is checking the eligibility of their whole cohort of pupils twice a week. This is to support them and make sure they can access the better part of £8,000 per pupil over the next six years. Schools need to have mechanisms to check in with families, because if a family loses their job and they’re eligible for a month and the school isn’t aware of it, then they won’t become eligible for the pupil premium for the longer term.

The impact of the pandemic on Early Years (EY) providers has been significantly underplayed. EY providers have had almost no support, and a lot of provisions run on very small margins, so many of them are at risk of shutting down. Importantly, EY providers are a key part of the national recovery puzzle. If childcare isn’t available, it’s harder for people to return to work – with a particular effect on women and the most vulnerable. Additionally, one of the most stressful things headteachers face are Reception cohorts with pupils with acute Special Educational Needs (SEN) - this is a huge barrier to delivering effective education. Often in Primary, this sucks massive SLT time that then can’t be devoted to delivering quality of education.

The panel stated, if 10-20% fewer kids are accessing nursery provision next year, in two years the country is going to be facing “this problem on steroids”. Evidence suggests that having as many core-located EY institutions as possible, with a teacher/teacher-equivalent leading, alongside a seamless integration between 3 and 4-year-olds and Reception, is one of the best outcomes this country can have. We should take the opportunity now to do that, but it needs much more funding.

Trustees, governors and headteachers know their pupil cohort better than central government. The panel had the following advice for them on steering spend on evidence-based strategies and collaboration with other schools: 

  • What are the things their pupils need now and come September?
  • What do they know about their staff and how medically vulnerable they are?
  • What do they know about the kind of teacher turnover they have in a normal year and what assumptions can they make about how that might vary this year?
  • How can we use any surplus funding we have to support the school during this time?

Headteachers should lean on governors and trustees for support with risk management and budgeting. Governors should also be steering heads to spend money in evidence-based ways and facilitate schools to work together to improve spending power.  

The close, the panel expressed that one of the best things that has come out of the pandemic is that schools are reaching out to each other more than ever before, breaking down the structural silos built over the past 10 years. There has been a sense of community and we are in this together. It has always been difficult to encourage schools to collaborate. If we can change mindsets, this crisis may turn out to be a negative experience with a positive outcome. 

You can find this panel's speakers on Twitter: 


More online panels are being scheduled for the future. Register here to watch them live.


Find out more about our leadership opportunities, including NPQs designed to turn teachers into inspiring leaders (including Middle Leader, Senior Leader and Headship), and our Leading Together programme, designed to bring stronger school leadership across your senior team.

We are also rolling out the Early Career Framework to support newly qualified teachers during the early stages of their careers, fully funded by the Department for Education.

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