Is there a finite limit to the reductions that can be made to a school’s budget?

So it’s agreed – public service budgets in the UK will be drastically reduced over the next 3-5 years. Depending on who you want to listen to the figures range from 12-20%.  If that were to be translated against our £95 million education and children’s services budget in East Lothian it would be the equivalent of taking out £12.6 -£21 million.

Most local authorities in Scotland are working to make the necessary savings for 2010-2011.  Some of the options they are considering would have been unthinkable just a few years ago.  Nevertheless, it’s not so much the challenge facing our public services in the coming year but the cumulative challenge over the 2- 4 years beyond that.

As part of that forward thinking it might help us if we could work out what the finite limit might be to deliver education in Scotland.  This can be exemplified as follows in this hypothetical primary school. 

Primary School X has 217 pupils.  They are split up into classes as follows P1=25; P2=30; P3=30; P4=33; P5=33; P6=33; P7=33: School roll = 217.

All of the above classes are at their statutory maximum.  Please note that such an even spread is very unlikely in any school, which usually leads to the creation of at least one or two additional classes to account for this spread.  If composite classes (where children from more than one year group are in the same class) the legal maximum is 25 – likely to necessitate even more classes.  It is also unusual to have all classes at their maximum as it does not leave any flexibility should additional pupils move into the area.

Whatever the spread of classes each will require a teacher.  However, as a teacher can only teach 22.5 hours and a pupil’s school week is 25 hours the school would need to employ another teacher to teach 17.5 hours across the seven classes. 

If the average teacher’s salary – with on-costs such as National Insurance and employer’s pension contributions – is £40K then the school salary costs for teachers would be £311,000.

For this exercise I’ll call this figure the Teaching costs

But it’s not as simple as that for there are are other limits which must be calculated for this school.  The list includes:

  • Teaching costs
  • Management costs: headteacher and other promoted posts
  • Pupil support:  learning support assistants; playground supervisors, etc.
  • Administrative support: office and secretarial support
  • Specialist staff: physical education, art etc
  • Materials and resources: books, jotters, photocopying
  • Home to school transport
  • Repairs and maintenance
  • Energy costs
  • Water charges
  • ICT costs: replacements, keeping up with technology, consumables (bulbs, etc)
  • Teacher cover costs: staff absence, maternity/paternity leave, meetings
  • Travel costs
  • Rates

I’ll be developing this exercise over the next few weeks but whatever the results the answer to the question:

“Is there a finite limit to the reductions that can be made in a school’s budget”

 then the answer is an absolute – YES.