Leader magazineASCL - Association of School and College Leaders

Leaders' surgery

Crumpled ten pound note

Careering on a cash course?

Q I am planning to start applying for headships next year but I am concerned that my financial skills may let me down. In my current school most of the financial planning is done by the business manager and the head gives final approval. This seems sensible to me as I have no interest in dwelling on columns of figures but I am worried that another school might regard this as a cavalier approach. As a head, how much do I need to know about budgeting and finance?

A As a headteacher you will carry both the can and the flag for the school. With your name on the line that starts 'budget responsibility' there is an analogy with the conductor being responsible for the performance of the orchestra. There is also the reality that if the budget is judged to have been mismanaged then the responsibility will certainly include you.

To extend the analogy, the conductor should not be responsible for tuning and playing the instruments but s/he certainly needs a good understanding of all the elements that make up a good performance.

As headteacher you will need to rely upon the skills of the business manager and the rest of the senior team but it will be essential that you understand enough of their work to be able to engage in meaningful discussion about the budget. You will also need to be alert to situations which may put the financial health of the school at risk.

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing but insufficient knowledge could be career threatening, ignorance being no defence. As head, the last thing you should be doing is dwelling on columns of figures. You should however be able to draw the key points from relevant financial information and be able to relate that to the strategic operation of your school.

You should be able to command the respect of the business manager, other members of your senior team and your governing body as a leader who has sufficient knowledge and understanding of their work to take effective strategic decisions, challenging and redirecting where necessary, whilst avoiding micromanagement.

The arrangement you describe where the head approves the work of the business manager sounds sensible but there should be a clear understanding of the information presented and there should be the potential for challenge and meaningful discussion of it. In essence a headteacher's approval must be an informed view and not just a rubber stamp.

There are several strategies you could use to improve your financial skills. You could ask to spend some time with the business manager at your school. There is a wealth of useful information on Teachernet and also on the Financial Management Standard in Schools (FMSiS)section of the DCSF website. There are some excellent books available.

Finally, ASCL MAPS runs courses on financial awareness and strategic financial management, both of which would be relevant to providing you with the skills you would need as a head, responsible for spending several million pounds worth of public money for the benefit of learners.

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