The Financial Benchmarking tool, designed and developed by the Department for Education for schools and academies based in the UK, is an online tool which is already proving to be an excellent asset for educators and school funders as they prepare and implement the budget for the year and also analyse and monitor how the budget and school statistics compare with other schools both nationally and locally.
The Schools Financial Benchmarking website (there is a separate website for Academies ) enables school funders to compare the school income and expenditure profile with that of similar schools. Various values can be entered into the online tool in order to access information about any school in the UK which meets relevant criteria.
As well as being able to tailor budgets using this extra dynamic, it seems it is most valuable in creating a set of reports and charts which quickly enable visualisation of financial and conceptual data in relation to the progress of other schools. Consequently this eases the process of demonstrating value for money to parents, auditors and regulators. The website is especially useful for aiding school funders with the CFR framework.
Using the Financial Benchmarking tool for analysis
Once registered and logged into the website you will find an easy to use dashboard with three possible options as to how you can compare your school. On average, the system will feedback between 20 and 30 schools for analysis – unless you have selected a specific school or specific set of schools. The three options are:
Statistical neighbours selected on the criteria that you provide
Here the tool would offer a number of values to choose from including number of pupils; urban or rural schools; pupils with a statement of SEN; admissions policy; number of sixth form pupils; factors relative to teaching staff, clerical staff and support staff.
Manual selection of school comparison
This manual selection allows you to choose which schools you wish to compare based on values and your own criteria.
Specific schools allow you to choose schools specifically by name
By entering the local authority number you will get a feedback of all those maintained schools in that region which you can then view individually.
Uses and benefits of the Finance Benchmarking tool
Schools taking advantage of the site will also note a facility which enables funders to compare statistics and values over a period of 5 years. In other words historic data is available to compare information over a range of dates, per pupil, per teacher or as a % of total income or expenditure. It is thought by monitoring these figures school funders will be able to analyse how changes made due to new trends (i.e. using leasing facilities for computer resources) are affecting costs over a period of time and in relation to similar parallel educational establishments.
As the website highlights, the main tasks it allows funders to consider include:
- Planning and managing the budget
- Identifying areas for improvement
- Setting targets for improvement
- Achieving best value while taking into consideration quality and cost
- Improving the effectiveness of expenditure to improve performance
- Delivering educational services to a defined standard
Aids school funders with mandatory policy
Most importantly perhaps, in line with the CFR framework, schools can use data not only to enhance budget and costs, but also to improve the quality of the schools services. It should also be noted that with all maintained schools, benchmarking is a mandatory element of the SFVS (Schools Financial Value Standard) which must be returned annually.
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