Tackling a £1.4m deficit at Blue Coat School

pound-coin-and-graph-1024Jane Durkin, Executive Business Manager, Blue Coat Church of England School and Music College, Coventry, writes…

When I started at Blue Coat School in November 2015, after more than 20 years’ experience in school business management, I was faced with the school’s £1.4 million deficit. That was quite a challenge. These are some of the main measures we took, and their results so far.

We developed honest and open discussion with our suppliers in order to set up payment plans. This helped our cash flow and enabled us to spread the payments to coincide with GAG funding, pupil premium and other grants, creating a more efficient way of running the budget.

We had to be creative and proactive in increasing the school’s income. This included making use of all of the site, for example:

  • using the main hall, theatre and our new conference suite for weddings and conferences
  • inviting primary schools and a local science club to use the facilities
  • letting out facilities to private tutoring companies for adult and older students to enable them to take examinations
  • letting out the car park to support local events (we are not far from Coventry city centre)
  • marketing our theatre facilities – we wrote to dance clubs and theatre groups and offered them ‘six for five’ deals
  • developing partnerships with Belgrade Theatre, Albany Theatre and the Royal Shakespeare Company
  • increasing the number of our performances, especially musically, as we have very talented musicians who perform at the Methodist Central Hall annually
  • maximising the use of the MUGA pitches and working with Coventry City football club’s Sky Blues in the Community to develop community use at all levels.

This has all helped financially and has also provided high-quality CPD for some of our staff and opportunities for pupils to be involved with projects.

The site is open until 10pm Monday to Friday and 8pm at weekends. In all, we doubled the letting income to some £100,000 a year.


All financial contracts are being renegotiated. We have saved £12,000 a year on our printer contract, and the same amount on gas and electricity, thanks to procurement via Zenergi. We’re now looking at our catering and cleaning contracts – and being very forceful in negotiations!

Our on-site team is doing more of the bigger repairs and maintenance jobs, such as painting and decorating the classrooms. Two people can repaint a classroom in a week, and in order to achieve this we have changed their shift patterns so they now work after the pupils have left school for the day (with a 4-10pm shift), or of course in the holidays.

Thankfully, we have a lot of supportive staff. A theatre manager oversees lettings and is also very proactive in looking for new ‘clients’. We’re taking on two finance apprentices in September to support our small finance team – not as cheap labour, as we really believe in the apprenticeship programme. We have employed apprentices before who are now permanent: one, who started as a clerical apprentice, is now the headteacher’s/SLT’s PA; others provide technical support for ICT and for the school’s theatre.

Be organised

You have to be very organised and self-disciplined to achieve such savings and income. I believe you can achieve great flexibility primarily by recruiting the right people. You can train people to do the (different) jobs required if they have the right attitude.

With the curriculum, we’re monitoring the sixth form and also years 10-11 to see if courses are cost-effective: we can’t afford tiny classes. We work closely with our sixth form consortium. Some pupils study for some subjects outside the school, and some from other schools study here, which gives us additional income.

For the future, we will be restructuring again, this time focusing on getting a more efficient support staff operation. And we’re looking to do more on working with the community, such as putting on tea dances for pensioners, craft fairs and theatre days, and matinee performances for the community as a whole.

We’re looking at selling the services of our IT, CPD and training, and finance teams. And we’re upskilling a number of staff. It’s all starting to look far different from how we have used the school buildings and facilities in the past.

We have managed to set a balanced but very tight budget for the year and we are on track with repaying the EFA loan by February 2017. From the next financial year (2017/18), we should then have more flexibility to make improvements to both infrastructure and curriculum.

triumph-in-adversity-cover-with-drop-shadow-300This piece is taken from Triumph in adversity – an SSAT and Arcadis publication that explores the many different ways in which schools are overcoming financial constraints. You can download the full publication here [PDF].

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