Rural schools are arguably hit the hardest by education budget cuts. Throw in lower pupil numbers, high transport costs and the inability to attract newly qualified teachers (NQTs), it can all make running a rural school that little bit more difficult.
Not having enough money is plainly one of the biggest challenges faced by rural schools, as it is with most schools nationwide. As Samantha Crane, School Business Manager at Tudor Primary School in Sudbury told us, “One of the hardest things is managing the budget. We are there to watch the pennies, so the challenge is the ever-decreasing budgets, the income and grants being squeezed.”
There are some unique challenges to running a rural school in comparison to more urban settings. Here are a few ways to potentially ease the strains for the SBM in a rural place of learning…
1. Make transport as efficient as possible
You may find that some pupils are able to gain free transportation if provided by the local authority (LA). If this isn’t possible, you will have to look to outsource to a local provider or organise the school minibus yourself. Neither option comes cheap but with a glance at potential savings over time, you could find a deal that is suitable for both the school’s and pupils’ needs.
You’ll be able to recoup some of the spend from selling subsidised bus passes to those pupils using the service, this can work weekly or termly with either an outsourced plan or a minibus. Link it directly to your online payment portal for added ease.
If you don’t own a minibus, you can look to buy or lease one. Obviously, you’ll need to factor in longer term costs and not just the immediate outlay. Appointing a driver (with checks), obtaining relevant insurance and route planning will all fall under this cost.
Ask parents if they are aware of any people within their networks who can help to source cheaper transport for you.
2. Get your hands on every piece of funding available
Get in contact with your LA or MAT first of all to ask about any funding opportunities for rural settings. We know it’s time-consuming to apply for grants but there are some shorter applications out there which may only require an online request. The best area to focus your energy on is the specialised rural community or areas of deprivation grants, this is where you’ll see most success.
Throwing out the question on social media is also a great place to start. Use #SBLtwitter to ask other like-minded professionals how they go about seeking funding or which grant applications they have been successful with. Networking really can be the key to unearthing some useful nuggets.
3. Get creative with catchment marketing
Nemi Fisher mentioned to us, “Pupil numbers and catchment are a huge challenge for my particular school”. Nemi is the School Business Manager of Clapham & Patching Primary School in the rural village of Worthing and faces this issue constantly.
Strong pupil numbers are the key to a healthy budget. Revitalising your marketing can help with this. Think about where the new families within the area are going to be spending their time and get yourself noticed in those areas. These can include; the local GP surgery, dentists, estate agents and supermarkets. Ensure you’re covering your entire catchment area with messaging about the all-important school ethos.
Make sure your website is accessible and full of useful information that prospective parents will need to know. This is your digital shop window, make sure it’s dressed! This goes for social media channels too, get the local community to follow your Twitter, Facebook and Instagram accounts – keep them up-to-date with goings on at the school. These posts will be shared by current pupils, staff and parents alike, these are all testimonials and social proof that your school is the place to be!
Holding your own events will always remain a great way to engage the local community, try to hold something big in each term at least. It gets feet through the door and showcases what your school is all about. Local businesses are a brilliant place to get free prizes, giveaways and funding to make it more appealing.
Whilst the tips above seem simple and won’t appear to drastically change your world, they should be seen as stepping stones to a better opportunity for your rural school.
There are clearly more issues that rural School Business Managers have to manage with resilience and some of them are unfortunately out of school and staff control. Hopefully these tips can help steer you on your journey to more than just ‘keeping your head above water’.