The cost of living crisis has had a significant impact on schools and staff. With costs rising, many families, teachers, and staff are struggling to make ends meet, while budget cuts have added further pressure to schools. As such, governors must ensure school leaders are supported throughout this difficult period and are doing everything in their power to provide both families and staff with the correct means of support.
With this in mind, we’ve put together a list of example questions you can pose to senior leaders during board meetings. While raising sensitive issues such as budgeting and staff retention can be uncomfortable, it’s your responsibility as a governor to ensure the school is running effectively, protecting pupils, staff, and families alike.
We’ve covered questions from each week of the campaign: estates and buildings, student development, parents and carers, and school staff.
Estates and buildings
Rising energy costs, ageing school buildings, wear and tear and maintenance of school grounds all have an impact on school budgets and staff time. With budgets squeezed, giving time to consider this costly area of school life is important.
Things to consider about health and safety in the workplace
The basis of British health and safety law is the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 (HSWA). The regulator is the HSE. The HSWA places overall responsibility for the health and safety of employees, pupils and visitors in workplaces with the employer. Do you know who the employer is in your setting? This is important, as it indicates the level of time and monitoring your board needs to give to certain areas. The employer varies depending upon the type of school:
The local authority is the employer in:
- community and community special schools
- voluntary-controlled schools
- maintained nursery schools
- pupil referral units
The governing body is the employer in:
- foundation and foundation special schools
- voluntary-aided schools
The school proprietor (the academy trust, for academies and free schools) is the employer in:
- free schools
- other independent schools
Questions about estates and buildings
- Who is the ‘employer in our school’?
- When it comes to health and safety, do we as a body know what our responsibilities are?
- Is our board comfortable with our responsibilities in this area? If not, have we researched available training in this area?
- Has our most recent health and safety audit identified any risks with our school building? If so, what is the plan for addressing these? Where is this plan stored and who can see it? Is the budget prohibitive when it comes to addressing anything identified in audits? If so, what is the plan to address this?
- What is our procurement process for building/estate/ground works? How do we ensure value for money?
- Have we identified any prospective areas of our building which need investment/attention? How will be afford this?
- Does our school have any special restrictions or requirements for building works, such as listed building status? If so, have we sought relevant advice and support from organisations such as Historic England? Does the listed status of our buildings mean work is less affordable?
- What is our budget for grounds maintenance? Is this sufficient?
- What is out budget for buildings maintenance? Is this sufficient?
- Do we have any SLAs – (Service Level Agreements) around building and estates management? – i.e., PAT testing, grounds and gardening upkeep. If so, have these been reviewed for value for money? Are we having to cancel any due to budget pressures? If so, what is our plan to reduce the impact of removing this service?
- Are we happy with our school building and content insurance policy? Does this cover our needs? Is it cost-effective? Have we forecast an increase and, if so, would we be able to afford this?
- How is the school managing the increase in energy costs?
- How do we foresee further price rises being factored into our future budgets?
- Have we researched alternative suppliers or organisations such as Energy Sparks?
Questions about student development
- Has the school experienced any increases in withdrawals from clubs/trips/extracurricular events due to cost of living/finance issues?
- What does the student voice say about the cost of living crisis?
- Are we effective in our Pupil Premium and Sports Premium monitoring?
- What impact is Pupil Premium and Sports Premium having?
- Is the uniform policy up to date and developed with cost in mind?
- Do we have school uniform recycling?
- Have we experienced any attendance issues with those living further from school/not in walking distance? If so, what are we doing to mitigate this? What impact is this having?
- Do we have an inclusive equipment policy?
- Does the school engage in any period poverty programmes? If so, what impact is this having?
- Does the school engage in any programmes offering free breakfasts, such as the Kellogg’s Breakfast Club and Greggs Breakfast Club?
- Have we looked at partners of organisations that we work with to identify free enrichment opportunities? Governors for Schools have a range of corporate partners, many of whom offer school engagement programmes for free.
- Is the school utilising third-sector organisations to support with student development and enrichment? (e.g., The Sutton Trust, Brilliant Club, National Literacy Trust etc.)
- How do we create an inclusive culture during this crisis?
Questions about parents and carers
- Are polices regarding uniform, school dinners, trips updated? Do policies include information about financial support/contributions?
- Does the school offer flexible payment plans for costs such as school dinners and trips?
- Does the school consult parent voice on issues relating to costs associated with school? If so, is the approach appropriate? i.e., have we tried to engage parents? Have we allowed options for parent views to be submitted anonymously to encourage parents to speak freely?
- How are we engaging with the PTA or equivalent? Are their fundraising efforts/requests for money in line with what we believe is reasonable to ask parents/carers for? Do we have any parental feedback on this? How can we/they gather that?
- What costs are being put to parents regarding leaving school? Are proms/leavers hoodies accessible to all? What can be put in place so all pupils have the opportunity to be involved in these milestones?
- Has the board investigated the Child Poverty Action Group’s Cost of the School Day project?
- Has the support our parents and carers need changed during the cost of living crisis? Does the school feel equipped to support with this?
- Do we have links with external organisations who can support parents and carers? If so, how are such partnerships communicated to parents?
Questions about school staff
- Is recruitment and retention a challenge at our school? How do we know this?
- Do we have a staff retention policy? How do we monitor the impact of this?
- Do we have a staff wellbeing policy? How do we monitor the impact of this?
- How are we consulting staff voice in our planning? Is our approach to collecting staff voice appropriate? Do we let staff complete anonymous surveys and give time for surveys to be completed?
- Are we strategic in our workforce planning? I.e., are we looking at staff capacity in line with forecasted changes in the pupil role?
- Does our school subscribe to any staff assistance programmes?
- How do we protect staff PPA time?
- Does school work with any third sector organisations to support staff wellbeing such as Education Support?
Explore our Counting the Cost resources
Want to discover more from the #CountingTheCost campaign? Go to our webpage, for a full list of resources.
This article – along with our other Counting the Cost resources – was made possible through the generous sponsorship of Allen & Overy.